Merge's Blog

Forced ranking is a foolish idea!

A few weeks ago, my blog post titled Ranking employees on a bell curve is a stupid practice! resulted a significant number of emails arriving on my desktop. Clearly this post got your attention! The vast majority who wrote were in agreement with me, and several went on to also talk about the practice of forced ranking. Forced ranking, in case you don’t know, is a “lighter” version of bell-curve ranking; it’s the process of comparing all your employees and putting them in order of best to worst. For the record, I think forced ranking is a foolish idea as well.

Let me be clear – I don’t have a problem with assessing an individual’s performance and recognizing that some employees are higher performers than others – I am certainly not a supporter of the “everyone is a winner” camp – but it’s the process of forcing every single person into a rank order that I find objectionable. My reason? Pretty much the same one I had for my post a couple of weeks ago – if you have good leaders, then you have to trust that they’ll hire good people. For the most part, exceptional performance is not a numerical score, so when you try to force-quantify it, all you end up doing is demoralizing your staff. If we’re talking about good employees, then every single one brings unique value to the workplace, so why would you try to force a comparison if it’s not appropriate? Sure, there may be rough groupings that employees naturally fall into (exceptional, very good, and good, for example), but imposing a ranking when it doesn’t make sense is pointless. Worse than pointless, it actually drives good people away. And employee that’s forced into a #5 ranking because of minor things separating him from #1 will just move on to an organization that appreciates his talents more. And it will be your loss!

So, get rid of the “forced” part of ranking. There are times when numerical ranking is possible, say based on sales generated, or calls handled, or some similar metric. But rank only when it makes sense, group when it doesn’t! Would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree. Let’s get this conversation going!


  • Merge – I agree that truth is not always black and white. We each see our own version of an event but, in fact, the truth is usually somewhere in-between. Once we can see things with less emotion (usually with time) we can acknowledge a differing viewpoint and work towards resolution. I think, however, that this is more easily and most often achieved in our work and less so in our personal lives.

  • Anne, thanks so much for your response. I couldn’t agree with you more! I find that it’s a lot easier to look at work issues with a more rational perspective, but that emotion tends to take over more quickly in personal situations.

    I take it that you actually meant to respond to my March 12 blog post (from a week ago), so I am taking the liberty of posting both your and my comments there.


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