Posts Tagged ‘performance appraisal’

Stacked Ranking

March 27, 2013 3 comments

The title of this post sounds like the stodgy name of some inhumane, BS, corpo process under which “supervisors” evaluate their children, I mean, induhvidual contributors. But wait! It’s the Valve way.

You don’t know who Valve is? Valve is a company that creates massive, multi-player, online games. According to “economist-in-residence“, Yanis Varoufakis, Valve rakes in $1B in revenue even though they have a measly 300 employees. Also, according to Yanis (and their employee handbook), they are totally flat chested. There’s not a single boob, oops, I mean “boss“, in the entire community. D’oh!

The employee handbook spells out the details of the “Stacked Ranking” process, but in summary, peers rate each other once a year according to these four, equally-weighted metrics:

Skill Level/Technical Ability


Group Contribution

Product Contribution


Notice that there’s no long list of patriarchical, corpo-BS ditties like these in the four simple Valve metrics:

  • Takes initiative and is a self-starter
  • Knows how to acquire resources when needed
  • Manages time well
  • Knows how to prioritize tasks
  • Yada, yada, yada

As you might guess, the stack rankings are used for salary adjustment:

…stack ranking is done in order to gain insight into who’s providing the most value at the company and to thereby adjust each person’s compensation to be commensurate with his or her actual value. Valve pays people very well compared to industry norms. Our profitability per employee is higher than that of  Google or Amazon or Microsoft, and we believe strongly that the right thing to do in that case is to put a maximum amount of money back into each employee’s pocket. Valve does not win if you’re paid less than the value you create. Over time, compensation gets adjusted to fit an employee’s internal peer-driven valuation. – The Valve Employee Handbook

Whenever I serendipitously discover jewels in the rough like Valve, SAS Institute, HCL TechnologiesSemco,, etc, I always ask myself why they’re rare exceptions to the herd of standard, cookie-cutter corpricracies that dominate the business world. The best answer I can conjure up is this Ackoff-ism:

The only thing harder than starting something new is stopping something old. – Russ Ackoff

But it’s prolly something more pragmatic than that. Since corpo profits seem to keep rising, there is no burning need to change anything, let alone blow up the org and re-design it from scratch to be both socially and financially successful. That would be like asking the king to willingly give up the keys to his kingdom.

Where Are They Now?

January 15, 2013 1 comment

The practice of performance appraisal is a mandated process in which, for a specified period of time, all or a group of employees’ work performance, behaviors, or traits are individually rated, judged, or described by a person other than the rated employee and the results are kept by the organization. – Coens, Tom; Jenkins, Mary. Abolishing Performance Appraisals

Abolishing Performance Appraisals” was written 10 years ago. In their seminal book, Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins provide case studies of the following organizations as having replaced the Annual Performance Appraisal (APR) with something different:

University of Wisconsin Credit Union
Madison,Wisconsin, Police Department
Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc.
Glenroy, Inc.
Gallery Furniture Company
Entre Computer Service
Memorial Hospital, Fremont, Ohio
Michigan State University
Electronic Data Systems (before being acquired by HP)

I wonder how these orgs are doing today? Could some/most of them have gone down the tubola like most of the orgs in Tom Peters‘ revered “In Search Of Excellence“? If so, BD00 wouldn’t be surprised. Even when successful new practices are placed into operation, the powerful forces acting on an org to revert back to the old status quo are ever present. These forces usually win out when new management, indoctrinated with old FOSTMA thinking, takes over the reins.


A Big Fat Waste Of Time

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Perf Review Books

Having recently finished the above two heretical books on the undiscussable joke that is “the Annual Performance Review“, I coincidentally stumbled upon this recent article: “Why Year-End Reviews Are A Big Fat Waste Of Time”.

Alas, even though author Denis Wilson plants some decent advice for managers in the blarticle, it still reeks of a slight “tweak” to the notoriously bad, but eerily unopposed, APR practice.

After posting the link to the blarticle on Twitter, I had this interesting exchange with Adam Yuret:


Upon reflection on why such a horrendously demeaning practice like the APR still exists in the 21st century, BD00 has come to the conclusion that the guild of management collectively thinks:

  • The APR actually “works” or,
  • They know it doesn’t work but they have no motivation to attempt such a big and scary change to the org, or
  • They know it doesn’t work but they have no motivation to explore alternatives for achieving what the APR is actually supposed to do.

Industry Best Practice

October 9, 2012 Leave a comment

When we got the idea for this book, we expected to surely find dozens of other books with the same theme… To our surprise, however, we found no other books devoted to abolishing (the annual performance) appraisal and exploring fresh approaches to the functions of appraisal. – Coens/Jenkins (Abolishing Performance Appraisals)

Since the thought of replacing the sacred “annual performance review” is so shockingly unthinkable, any proposed alternative doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being embraced. The undiscussability of this “industry best practice” is so palpable, that not many souls even make an attempt to concoct any alternatives, let alone expose them for scrutiny. Alas, such is the power of entrenched 20th century management thinking to keep the status quo on corpo-social issues that really matter, in-situ.

Related articles

He Said, He Thought, He Said, He Thought

September 30, 2012 3 comments

In “Get Rid of the Performance Review!: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing–and Focus on What Really Matters“, Sam Culbert provides several, made-up, boss-subordinate exchanges to make his case for jettisoning the archaic, 1900’s “annual performance review“. For your reading pleasure, I lifted one of these depressingly funny exchanges out of the book and transformed it into a derivation of Chris Argyris’s terrific LHS-RHS format. It’s long, and it took me a bazillion years to recreate it on this stupid-arse blawg; so please read the freakin’ thing.

Did you notice how both the boss and the subordinate suffered from the ordeal? But of course, you don’t have to worry about experiencing similar torture because the “annual performance review” at your institution is different. Even better, your org has moved into the 21st century by implementing an alternative, more equitable and civilized way of gauging performance and giving raises.

In his hard-hitting and straight-talking book, Mr. Culbert, a UCLA management school professor and industry consultant firebrand (he’s got street cred!), really skewers C-level management. He fires his most devastating salvos at evil HR departments for sustaining the “annual performance review” disaster that sucks the motivation out of everybody within reach. And yes, he does provide viable alternatives (that won’t ever be implemented in established, status-quo-loving borgs) to HR’s beloved “annual performance review“. Buy and read the book to find out what they are.

Note: Thanks Elisabeth, for steering me toward Mr. Culbert’s blasphemous work. It has helped to reinforce my entrenched UCB and the self-righteous illusion that “I’m 100% right“. But wait! I’m not allowed to be right.

Behind One’s Back

September 22, 2012 3 comments

Most reasonable people think that “talking behind one’s back” is a dishonorable and disrespectful thing to do. But aren’t many corpo performance evaluation systems designed, perhaps inadvertently, to do just that?

In some so-called performance evaluation systems, an “authorized” evaluator (manager) talks to an evaluatee’s peers to get the “real scoop” on the behavior, oops, I mean the “performance” of the evaluatee. But can’t that be interpreted (by unreasonable people, of course) as a sanctioned form of talking behind one’s back?

In these ubiquitously pervasive and taken-for-granted performance evaluation systems, when the covert, behind-the-back, intelligence gathering is complete and an “objective” judgment is concocted, it’s bestowed upon the evaluatee at the yearly, formal, face-to-face get together.

Wouldn’t it be more open, transparent, and noble to require face-to-face, peer-to-peer reviews before the dreaded “sitdown” with Don Corleone? Even better, wouldn’t it be cool if the evaluatee was authorized by the head shed to evaluate the evaluator?

Mr. Corleone, just about every action you took last year slowed me down, dampened my intrinsic motivation, and delayed my progess. Hence, you sucked and you need to improve your performance over the next year.

But alas, hierarchies aren’t designed for equity. Besides, quid pro quo collaboration takes too much time and we all know time is money. Chop, chop, get back to work!

To make the situation more inequitable and more “undiscussable“, some orgs institute two performance evaluation systems: the formal one described above for the brain dead DICsters down in the bilge room; and the undocumented, unpublicized,  and supposedly unknown one for elite insiders.

If you work in an org that has a patronizing, behind-your-back performance evaluation system, don’t even think of broaching the subject to those who have the power to change the system. As Chris Argyris has stated many times, discussing undiscussables is undiscussable.

But wait! Snap out of that psychedelic funk you may have found yourself drifting into after reading the above blasphemy. Remember whose freakin’ blog you’re reading. It’s BD00’s blog – the self-proclaimed, mad, l’artiste.

Quid Pro Quo

July 3, 2012 2 comments

Forget about the superficial, ceremonial, “empoyee survey” that is often ignored and quickly forgotten. Wouldn’t it be a great quid-pro-quo move to “allow” each employee in an org to formally judge his/her organization’s behavior, I mean performance, once a year? The content of the review form could be similar to the one in which the employee him/herself is evaluated. After filling out a set of multiple choice questions and allowing for free-form input to justify the selections, an overall behavioral rating could close the review. The rating could be selected from an enumerated list similar to this:

  • Exceeds Expectations
  • Meets Expectations
  • Needs Improvement
  • Unacceptable

Based on the final rating, instead of giving the org a merit increase, the employee would communicate the level of commitment that he/she will really provide in the coming year:

  • Total Commitment
  • Half-assed Commitment
  • Feigned Total Commitment

Of course, much like parents and teachers are expected by “the entrenched social system” to evaluate their children, but not vice-versa, this idea doesn’t have a chance of making it into the mainstream. Nevertheless, BD00 speculates that the practice is done somewhere as part of a continuous improvement initiative?

My Accomplishments

May 16, 2011 7 comments

Here’s an idea. The next time you’re being formally evaluated for performance by a “superior” and he/she opines that your written accomplishments are vague, ask him/her for a copy of his/her latest accomplishments sheet – for guidance on how to do it right, of course.

Note: Thanks to Fish-dude for finding the matching Dilbert strip.

Where You Stand

In “Making It Big In Software“, author Sam Lightstone quotes former GE CEO Jack Welch:

You want to make sure everyone knows where they stand in the organization. It’s a leader’s obligation. In most companies, the leaders stand back, and people don’t know where they stand. – Jack Welch

Do your performance appraisal and compensation systems allow you to clearly determine where you stand? If not, do you know what’s missing (hint: a clear and unconfusing connection between the two)? If you do know what’s missing, have you raised your concern to management? If you haven’t raised your concern to management, why not (hint: fear)?

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