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Rank and Yank

Ed Engel  | Published on 4/6/2015

I read an article the other day in business section of the local paper on the Rank and Yank method of getting rid of people. The concept in a nutshell is managers rank their people on an A, B, C scale. “A” would be the highest ranked people, “B” would be the mediocre people, and “C” would be the lowest ranked people. Then on a periodic basis all people ranked as a “C” would be fired. You would then start another staffing process to fill positions that need to be filled and start the ranking process all over again. Apparently GE and its leader Jack Welch championed this approached. The article looked at this as revolutionary; I looked at this as disgusting.

I find this approach offensive to the core. What we are saying is that our staffing process is so poor that only 20% of the people we hire are good employees and the remainder are either obviously incompetent or just putting in their time keeping their head down so they are not noticed and considered at least mediocre.

Or we are saying that our training process is so bad that we cannot help 80% of employees to gain the skills necessary to do a good job.

Our process for setting goals and transferring what employees need to do to affect these goals is so bad that 80% of the people have no idea what the goals are and what they can do to affect those goals.

Our performance evaluation and compensation system is so poor that we cannot change the behavior of 80% of the people to meet the high standards that are needed to be a world-class company.

We are making the assumption that 20% of the people come in to work and consciously decide they are going to do a bad job today. And 60% of the people come in to work and consciously decide they are going to do just enough to keep out of the line of fire or under the radar.

Can you imagine the level of fear and pain that exists in that type of work environment? In an organization like this most people have no idea what they need to do to affect the goals of the company, are usually not given the opportunity to learn what is needed to stay effective in their jobs, are not given the tools necessary to do their job well, have no idea what standards of behavior are acceptable, they have no idea what the values of the company are and what they need to avoid doing so they do not compromise those values.

I also find the Rank and Yank method to be the lazy manager way to change their team. They do not look at these employees as people and they certainly to not go out of their way to find the uniqueness in each person and best utilize that person’s total being. We do not fully utilize their body, mind, heart, and spirit. Whenever I ask groups of manager if they think they fully utilize their employee’s body, mind, heart, and spirit I never get anybody to admit they are. I also ask if they think they personally are fully utilized and I never get anybody to admit they are either.

Whenever you ask a group of managers what their most valuable asset is they always will answer their people. I believe this to be true, but guess what gets cut first in bad times? First cuts are all forms of training, which is what I would call preventive maintenance. Do we do that to equipment and facilities? Of course not, if we did we would never be able to compete when times are good because of the high failure rate of the equipment when put under stress. What do you think happens to people when business volumes bounce back? They also get burnt out due to over work and lose their competitive edge because they are not as knowledgeable as the competition who is investing in their people. And people really know that when times are bad they are considered an expendable asset to the company.

The next thing that happens is people are terminated or laid off for a short term. What are we telling our employees when that happens? They are expendable and you are on your own. How much loyalty to the company goals exists under these conditions? I suspect not much. And management simply cannot understand why they don’t get the best out of 80% of the people. It is a sad cycle of events when rank and yank is considered a viable method of developing a team much less revolutionary. All we are doing is thickening the shell people go into to protect themselves.