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Making Forced Ranking Work, Part Two

Dick Grote’s new book, Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work , argues that forced ranking doesn’t have to be a dog-eat-dog Darwinian exercise.

December 7, 2005
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Related Topics: Performance Appraisals, Recruitment, Staffing Management
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Here, from Appendix A to the book, is a CEO’s memo to executives who would serve as assessors in the company’s forced ranking process. This memo, like the one in the first part of this series, was changed only to conceal the name of the company, and was sent by the company’s CEO to all company employees at the vice president level and above who would be involved in the forced ranking assessment meetings.

The objective was to communicate the importance he placed on the procedure for building the company’s future.


To: All Vice Presidents

From: [Name of CEO]

Date: February 19, 2002

Subject: Acme Leadership Assessment Program

We have just announced a new forced ranking procedure that will help us better identify Acme talent. In this Leadership Assessment Program, Acme’s senior managers will use a forced ranking process to identify:

  • the top 20 percent of all Acme managers so that their career development can be accelerated;

  • the vital 70 percent — the great majority whose strong performance is essential to keep Acme competitive;

  • the bottom 10 percent whose talents and skills will be best used in other jobs or in other organizations

As a vice president of Acme Services Company, you will be participating in one or more of the ranking sessions. A schedule of all sessions is attached.

The criteria to be used for this ranking procedure will be based on three of the most critical Acme Values (Execute with excellence, Passion for results, and Succeed with people) as well as the individual’s ability to make tough decisions. In the forced ranking discussions, consideration will also be given to such important aspects as the individual’s past performance, promotability, and intellectual strength.

Before you will be able to participate in any of the ranking sessions, you must complete the three-hour training program that is scheduled for [dates and times]. If you are unable to attend one of these two sessions, you will not be able to participate in any of the ranking sessions.

The training programs will be conducted by [name of consultant], a nationally recognized consultant who specializes in performance management. He will also serve as the facilitator for each of the ranking sessions.

It is critical to our success that we identify, reward and retain our top talent. We must also make sure that none of our jobs is blocked by an individual who doesn’t have the capability of making an outstanding contribution. The forced ranking process in admittedly difficult. However, the training you will receive combined with the fairness, intelligence and integrity you will bring to the ranking sessions, will make this process a significant success.

Appendices A and B excerpted from Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work, by Dick Grote. Excerpt copyright 2005 by Harvard Business School Press. Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business School Press from Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work, copyright 2005 by Dick Grote. All rights reserved.

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