Wednesday, February 27, 2008

“Can Ranking Employees Do More Harm Than Good?”

The trend of ranking employees by giving them grades based on a Bell Curve is not going to be long-lived, in spite of its popularity. I say this because anyone in the management world soon begins to realize that trends change from one year to another. In 14 years, Bain, a global business consulting firm, has done 11 multi-year surveys. The lists change from year to year, with some management tools and trends lasting and others disappearing.
In the recent past it was considered progressive to treat both employees and students as individuals. No one really knew how to do this, but they did realize that it made sense, given that no two individuals were ever alike, sometimes similar, but not alike. (Recent research shows that even identical twins have small genetic differences). During the time it has taken to develop truly individualized learning and evaluation methods, the world has moved on. Immigration has increased worldwide and forced people together from very different cultures, both in schools and in the workplace. Parents and workers, in many cases were from collective cultures, where a case of bad grades or performance reflected upon the family more than on the individual.
Economic shifts towards increasingly strict interpretations of market economy demand high performance and the ability to predict that performance. Stock prices and incomes must be kept high in order to deliver to stockholders. So the search for the best predictors of future performance is driven by the need to grade.
A series of changes, the movement from fossil fuel based energy to renewable energy, the worry of climate change, changes war from being country against country to internal conflicts and international terrorist activity, the need to change our live styles and much more make us nervous and unsure. We sometimes tend to grab onto the things we know best and in this case grades are the choice. Those who made good grades will probably be the most interested in using them as a measure. Here are three answers in a Metro newspaper article in response to the question “Is it good that employees get grades on the job?”:
“Yes, then one can fight a little more and get better results”, “Yes, it is, of course good, it keeps on working properly.” And “Yes, if management and personnel are in agreement, and help is given to help personnel be better.” Yet, this writer is not convinced.
There is a method that has been tried successfully in both schools and in the workplace. That is to measure one’s self against one’s own past performance not against others in the group. It takes more time, as employees have to learn how to evaluate themselves and then discuss differences with the boss or the teacher. The skills must be clearly defined, especially skills in personal relations and social competence. It has been known for some time that the individual always is tougher in evaluating themselves than is the boss or teacher. Instead of going ahead and perfecting this method, which admittedly is not easy in the beginning, the tendency is to fall back upon what is known i.e. grades. If grades are so good, why are students not getting them? In Sweden, many students are leaving school without fullfilling their gymnasium requirements. This gives students and employees a low picture of their worth, their place in society and expectations for their future.
In the business world, grading employees is more a fad than of a trend. See The real trend might be the search for ways to measure performance.