Stacked (Raging) Ranking: Turning Performance Management into a Cage Match

Sean Conrad Don't Feed the Vendors, Performance, Sean Conrad

Stacked Ranking….just the words alone make my blood pressure spike. Not only is the name bad (does this sound like something your employees want to participate in?) but the process of stacked ranking is seriously flawed.

It’s a totally ineffective approach if you want to improve employee performance.  While some may say that a model like this is needed to make decisions on where to cut if required, I would argue that a proper, individually focused performance management process will still give you better results to make that decision than a stacked ranking process.  Otherwise, you are creating an environment where you have employees fighting for ratings.

With apologies to the WWE fans in the FOT house, I think of stacked ranking as an old school wrestling match where employees are pitted against each other to ensure they win.  Employees and managers are being set up just like in a WWE match where Hulk Hogan or Macho Man Randy Savage wins over the Reaper or British Bulldogs.  It essentially scripts an environment with winners and losers – the good guy gets the belt, and the bad guy, well, he gets hit with the chair.

Most importantly, stacked ranking has no place in employee development!  I don’t need to know “who is the best” to effectively help employees’ development. In fact, that process is counterproductive.  Who cares how they rank in any area?  They may still need development, if not for this role, then definitely for the next one.

And keep in mind that rankings can also change year to year. One bad quarter should not send a quality employee packing.  It’s much more cost effective to develop and turn an employee around than to lose their history and corporate memory, and have to recruit and retain a new one.

I’d argue too that stacked rankings are a good way to tick off your best hiring managers.  With stacked ranking, what do you do when you have a record of hiring stars?  Who gets the bottom ranking and is cast as the villain? For every champion they hire, do they need to start making sure they hire a villain so that they can have someone to send out the door if push comes to shove?

What happens when a manager has an employee who is a real workhorse  – not yet the rising star – but they want to keep this person near the top?  To do so, they are going to have to “play” with the rankings, which takes time away from actual employee development or coaching.

These are just a few issues I see with the process. I am very confident that this approach can very easily go bad and devolve into a cage match.  By using stacked ranking to remove low performers, manager are going to be focused on how to rank their teams so they come out as the winner.

None of this does much to contribute to employee development or building a high performance workforce.

There are plenty of opinions out there about stacked ranking, so if you’d like to see other takes on this subject, you can check out the Raging Debates in HR Forum for insight from 10 experts (including FOT’s KD) and see the latest poll results where over 200 HR pros weighed in on the question.

Editor’s NoteDon’t Feed the Vendors is a special series at FOT.  The goal of the DFTV?  We get hammered
by third parties who want to write at FOT, so we give them a challenge. Write something cool and significant we can learn from/talk about inthe FOT style, and you can roll with the FOT crew.  Try to sell our readership your product and/or provide a whitepaper, and we’ll openly mock your company in public for not understanding the DNA of our readership.  Many inquire, few follow through once they learn they can’t post a workup of their latest “research”.  For those who make the cut, we’ll offer up associate FOT membership as part of the Don’t Feed the Vendors stable.

Sean Conrad of Halogen Software is one of the ones who made the cut.  Show him some love in the comments for being up to the challenge and not writing something that should be read on PBS.