Ben Hyrman

Fun with Stack Ranking

Stack ranking; Microsoft does it and a lot has been written about how... lackluster... the results can be.

My stack ranking experience is a bit more fun than all that. A long time ago in a state not too far away, I worked at the US branch of a multi-national (a global 10) company. Our CIO decided that, just like Microsoft and GE, we too would implement stack ranking in our quest for optimizing and synergizing and world-classizing our operations. Cue the rebellion.

Our little group was hand-picked from different groups in the company to build an integration team. Frankly, you'd be hard-pressed to say any of us were underperformers. Heck, I would jump at the chance to work with any of them again (in fact, I did). And, our boss was made of the stuff of legends. He worked hard to manage up the chain and shield us from the typical office bs. In return, he expected you to do your job and keep him in the loop. A straight-shooter you might say (but you wouldn't, because you'd sound stupid).

So, the edict comes down to our boss, Wade, that someone on the team has to be scored a 2 (5-point scale). He tells his boss that no one on the team is a 2. Someone has to be, he's told.

We were informed of this fact in our team meeting. We all volunteered to take a 2 (aside, getting scored less than a 3 had a very material impact on raises and bonuses; we were all willing to forego a lot of money in the name of solidarity). Back up the chain the message went. "You're team can't all be 2's!" was the answer that came back.

I decided I wouldn't mind being the sole 2 on the team.

Back up the chain with the word that I'd be taking the 2. "Ben can't be a 2!" was the response.

At that point, Wade again explained to upper management that he doesn't hire underperformers, he wouldn't keep underperformers, and if he had to stack rank his team then I was the odd man out. Management, to their credit, quickly realized that stack ranking might be a lousy idea and quickly killed it.