Ranking Systems Destroy Collaboration at All Levels
Ranking systems have never made sense to me. The first time I participated in one, we attempted to rank all eighty-five people in an engineering group. We were trying to rank developers against testers against writers against architects against performance engineers against sysadmins. By the time we were done, the management team had created a ranked list, but it was not objective. No sirree. We had horse-traded, used our influence, negotiated, and angered each other. It was ugly. Our VP was satisfied, but he was the only one who was.
As a management team, we stopped being able to collaborate that day. Our VP asked us to play a zero-sum game, where one of us would win (him) and the rest of us would lose. We didn’t trust each other anymore. We damaged our relationships as a management team that day, some beyond repair. I left that company soon after.
Here’s why ranking systems make no sense: People contribute to the best of their abilities. If they aren’t contributing, it may not be their fault. If you think ranking systems are useful, first ask yourself these questions:
- Are people receiving adequate and timely feedback about what to continue or change?
- Do people have the knowledge to do their jobs?
- Does the organizational system, the environment, allow them to contribute to the best of their abilities?
If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions, there is no point in having a ranking system. And, if you can answer yes to these questions, you don’t need a ranking system. If people can’t contribute, it’s part of the manager’s role to help them out of the organization, a topic for another myth.
Consider Alternatives to a Ranking System
So what can you do instead of a ranking system? You can make sure people have feedback, so they know what to continue doing in their jobs or what they need to change to perform better. Sometimes, people don’t know that what they are doing isn’t quite right and you can provide them the knowledge to perform their jobs better or arrange for training. Sometimes, people need to talk to others who perform similar jobs or roles. In that case, your management job is to facilitate communities of practice.
People Need Feedback to Know What to Continue or Change
People need feedback. They need feedback primarily from their teammates in an agile organization. If you haven’t transitioned to agile and you, the manager, are assigning work, your team members need feedback. They need to know how they are doing, and a ranking system doesn’t tell them that. If their contributions aren’t adequate, they need to know. If their contributions are outstanding, they need to know that, too. Whatever your team members’ contributions are, they need to know. So, your team needs feedback.
If your team members aren’t receiving feedback from their peers or you, is it because no one knows how to provide feedback? That’s a common problem. Here’s a peer-to-peer model of feedback from Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management :
- Create an opening to deliver the feedback.
- Describe the behavior or result in a way the person can hear.
- State the impact using “I” language.
- Make a request for changed (or continued in the case of reinforcing feedback) behavior.