RSS icon

Top Stories

Making Forced Ranking Work, Part Three

December 7, 2005
Related Topics: Performance Appraisals, Featured Article, Recruitment, Staffing Management
Reprints

Scripts—What to Say to A, B, and C Players

    It’s easy to encourage managers to tell the truth in discussing performance. What’s tricky is telling them exactly how to tell the truth — giving them the actual words to say. It’s particularly sticky in those difficult cases where they have to tell an excellent performer just why she didn’t quite make the A player category, or the B- player that he’s flirting with the bottom category, or the C player that her time with the company is over.

    This section contains five scripts I wrote for managers to use as models in announcing the results of the ranking panel’s decisions. These scripts have been used by managers in actual organizations and have been reviewed by employment lawyers to make sure that there are no hidden traps.

    While Acme Services Company, the real but disguised organization referred to in these scripts, used a forced ranking procedure that assigns individuals into three categories (top 20 percent, vital 70 percent, and bottom 10 percent), I discovered that I had to write scripts for five different scenarios:

Script #1 — A Player

Script #2 — High B Player

Script #3 — Solid B Player

Script #4 — Barely B Player

Script #5 — C Player

    While the scripts for the first four outcomes are probably appropriate for use by almost any organization, the script for the C Player announces that the decision has been made to ask people in this category to leave the organization and, as part of that decision, to provide them with a generous severance package and outplacement assistance. In this particular case, the company’s decision had been to allow any individual who received a C (Bottom 10 percent) ranking to challenge that ranking, reject the severance package, and be re-reviewed by the same set of rankers three months later. If the person had demonstrated in this period that he in fact was a solid B player or better (in effect, demonstrating that either the original assessment had been wrong or that in a fairly short period of time he had been able to leapfrog over the performance level of people rated toward the low end of the B category), that new ranking would stand until the next iteration of the process.

Acme Services Company

  • Leadership Assessment Program
  • Feedback Sessions
  • Recommended Scripts

"A" Performer — Pat

    Come in, Pat, sit down. I’ve got some good news for you.

    As you know, we recently completed the Acme Leadership Assessment Program discussions. The outcome of those discussions is that you were evaluated as one of the top 20 per cent of Acme leaders. Congratulations.

    Before we talk further about what this will mean to you and your career here at Acme, are there any questions you’d like to ask me about the process?

    Answer questions.

    Let’s talk about what’s going to happen as a result of this decision and what some of your responsibilities are. To begin, your first responsibility is to maintain the confidentiality of the result. While the company is communicating openly about the fact that we are using a leadership assessment process and the way the program works, the actual evaluations of individuals are confidential. I expect you not to discuss your assessment with anyone who’s not directly involved with the process.

    The most important thing we need to talk about are your development plans. One of the reasons for inaugurating the Leadership Assessment Program is to accelerate the development of people like yourself, the ones whom we see as being the future leaders of the corporation. Let’s begin by going over are the impressions people shared about your development needs during the assessment discussion . . .

    Review any discussion of the individual’s development needs that took place during the ranking sessions. In particular, discuss which of the Acme criteria the individual was felt to be the strongest and which to be the weakest.

    As you think about your own strengths and weaknesses, Pat, do you feel that the group’s assessment was on target, or are there other areas that you feel your development efforts should concentrate on?

    Discuss individual’s personal perceptions about his/her development needs. Say either:

  1. As a result of your assessment in the top 20 per cent group, one immediate action we have planned is [announce action — special project assignment, job change, new responsibility added to job, request to serve as a mentor to another high potential employee, assignment to a senior manager who will serve as a mentor, scheduling attendance at a special development program, etc.]
  2. While we have not created any immediate development plans for you, I need you to think about what you feel you need to do to accelerate your own development. When you think about your development needs, Pat, I want you to think much bigger than just attending some kind of training program. I want you to give some consideration to such things as special project assignments, possible job changes, or new responsibilities that might be added to your job. You might consider serving as a mentor to another high potential employee, or working with a senior manager to acquire a broader view of the company, or anything else that might help you make a greater contribution to Acme. I’d like you to get back to me with your ideas for your development by [date].

    Pat, I want you to know that everyone who was involved in your assessment in the Acme Leadership Assessment Program sees you having a very bright future with the company."

High "B" Performer -- Chris

    Come in, Chris, sit down. I’ve got some good news for you.

    As you know, we recently completed the Acme Leadership Assessment Program discussions. The outcome of those discussions is that you were not only evaluated as one of the vital 70 per cent of Acme leaders, you were also ranked toward the top of this group. Congratulations.

    Before we talk further about what this will mean to you and your career here at Acme, are there any questions you’d like to ask me about the process?

    Answer questions. In particular, discuss why the individual was not ranked in the top 20 per cent category. If there is a specific deficiency that resulted in the individual’s placement in the B Player category, discuss that deficiency and any obvious steps the person should immediately take to overcome it. If the ranking resulted from an overall competitive placement, explain that.

    Let’s talk about what’s going to happen as a result of this assessment and what some of your responsibilities are. To begin, your first responsibility is to maintain the confidentiality of the result. While the company is communicating openly about the fact that we are using a leadership assessment process and the way the program works, the actual evaluations of individuals are confidential. I expect you not to discuss your assessment with anyone who’s not directly involved with the process.

    The most important thing we need to talk about are your development plans. One of the reasons for inaugurating the Leadership Assessment Program is to accelerate the development of people like yourself, the ones whom we see as being the future leaders of the corporation. Let’s begin by going over are the impressions people shared about your development needs during the assessment discussion . . .

    Review any discussion of the individual’s development needs that took place during the ranking sessions. In particular, discuss which of the Acme criteria the individual was felt to be the strongest and which to be the weakest.

    As you think about your own strengths and weaknesses, Chris, do you feel that the group’s assessment was on target, or are there other areas that you feel your development efforts should concentrate on?

    Discuss individual’s personal perceptions about his/her development needs. Say either:

  1. As a result of your assessment in the top of the vital 70 per cent group of Acme leaders, one immediate action we have planned is [announce action — special project assignment, job change, new responsibility added to job, request to serve as a mentor to another high potential employee, assignment to a senior manager who will serve as a mentor, scheduling attendance at a special development program, etc.]
  2. While we have not created any immediate development plans for you, I need you to think about what you feel you need to do to accelerate your own development. When you think about your development needs, Chris, I want you to think much bigger than just attending some kind of training program. I want you to give some consideration to such things as special project assignments, possible job changes, or new responsibilities that might be added to your job. You might consider serving as a mentor to another high potential employee, or finding ways to acquire a broader view of the company, or anything else that might help you make a greater contribution to Acme. I’d like you to get back to me with your ideas for your development by [date].

    Chris, I want you to know that everyone who was involved in your assessment in the Acme Leadership Assessment Program sees you having a very bright future with the company."

Solid "B" Performer — Kerry

    Come in, Kerry, sit down. I've got some good news for you.

    As you know, we recently completed the Acme Leadership Assessment Program discussions. The outcome of those discussions is that you were evaluated as one of the vital 70 per cent of Acme leaders. Congratulations.

    Before we talk further about what this will mean to you and your career here at Acme, are there any questions you’d like to ask me about the process?

    Answer questions. In particular, discuss why the individual was ranked in the vital 70 per cent category. In particular, be sensitive to which of the four most common feelings the person is expressing (MAD, SAD, GLAD, or SCARED) and respond appropriately.

    If there is a specific deficiency that resulted in the individual’s placement in the B Player category, discuss that deficiency and any obvious steps the person should immediately take to overcome it. If the ranking resulted from an overall competitive placement, explain that.

    Let’s talk about what’s going to happen as a result of this assessment and what some of your responsibilities are. To begin, your first responsibility is to maintain the confidentiality of the result. While the company is communicating openly about the fact that we are using a leadership assessment process and the way the program works, the actual evaluations of individuals are confidential. I expect you not to discuss your assessment with anyone who’s not directly involved with the process.

    Let me explain what it means to be assessed as one of the vital 70 percent of Acme leaders. As I said at the start of the meeting, it’s good news. It means that your contributions to the company are recognized and appreciated. It means that we see you having a solid future here.

    The most important thing we need to talk about are your development plans. One of the reasons for inaugurating the Leadership Assessment Program is to accelerate the development of people like yourself, the ones whom we see as being the vital core of the corporation. Let’s begin by going over are the impressions people shared about your development needs during the assessment discussion . . .

    Review any discussion of the individual’s development needs that took place during the ranking sessions. In particular, discuss which of the Acme criteria the individual was felt to be the strongest and which to be the weakest.

    As you think about your own strengths and weaknesses, Kerry, do you feel that the group’s assessment was on target, or are there other areas that you feel your development efforts should concentrate on?

    Discuss individual’s personal perceptions about his/her development needs.

    While we will not be creating any specific development plans for you as a result of the Acme Leadership Assessment Program, I want you to think about what you feel you need to do to accelerate your own development. When you think about your development needs, Kerry, I want you to think much bigger than just attending some kind of training program. I want you to give some consideration to such things as special project assignments, new responsibilities that might be added to your job, or anything else that might help you make a greater contribution to Acme. I’d like you to get back to me with your ideas for your development by [date].

    Kerry, I want you to know that everyone who was involved in your assessment in the Acme Leadership Assessment Program recognizes your contributions and sees you having a very solid future with the company."

Low "B" performer--Tracy

    Come in, Tracey, sit down.

    As you know, we recently completed the Acme Leadership Assessment Program discussions. The outcome of those discussions is that you were evaluated in the middle group, as one of the vital 70 per cent of Acme leaders. While that in itself is good news, Tracy, quite frankly you were assessed toward the lower end of the middle group.

    Before we talk further about what this will mean to you and your career here at Acme, are there any questions you’d like to ask me about the process?

    Answer questions. In particular, discuss why the individual was ranked in the lower end of the vital 70 per cent category. In particular, be sensitive to which of the four most common feelings the person is expressing (MAD, SAD, GLAD, or SCARED) and respond appropriately.

    If there is a specific deficiency that resulted in the individual’s placement in the lower end of the B Player category, discuss that deficiency and any obvious steps the person should immediately take to overcome it. If the ranking resulted from an overall competitive placement, explain that.

    Let’s talk about what’s going to happen as a result of this assessment and what some of your responsibilities are. To begin, your first responsibility is to maintain the confidentiality of the result. While the company is communicating openly about the fact that we are using a leadership assessment process and the way the program works, the actual evaluations of individuals are confidential. I expect you not to discuss your assessment with anyone who’s not directly involved with the process.

    Let me explain more specifically what your assessment means. It means that as we look at all Acme leaders, we see you as being among the great majority in terms of your talent and contribution and potential. It means your contributions to the company are recognized and appreciated. It means that we see you having the potential for a solid future here.

    But Tracy, you need to get to work immediately to develop that potential. If we didn’t think that you had the talent and capability to be a fully successful leader at Acme, you would have been ranked in the bottom 10 percent. You weren’t. But, quite frankly, it was a close call.

    The most important thing that you need to think about are your development plans. The Acme Leadership Assessment Program is going to be an ongoing process in the company. You will need to demonstrate significant improvement in all of the Acme leadership criteria. I believe that next time you have the capability of being assessed as solidly in the middle of the vital 70 percent of Acme leaders . . . maybe even more. But right now, it’s critical to your future that you demonstrate that that’s where you belong.

    While we will not be creating any specific development plans for you as a result of the Acme Leadership Assessment Program, I want you to think about what you feel you need to do to accelerate your own development. When you think about your development needs, Tracy, I don’t want you to think about attending some kind of training program. I want you to think about the ways in which you can better demonstrate the Acme leadership criteria and how you can make a greater contribution to the company. I’d like you to get back to me with your ideas for your development by [date].

    Tracy, I want you to know that I believe that you have the capability to be a solid Acme leader in the future. I need you to prove me right.

"C" Performer — Jan

    Come in, Jan, sit down. I’ve got some bad news for you.

    As you know, we recently completed the Acme Leadership Assessment Program discussions. The outcome of those discussions is that you were evaluated in the bottom 10 percent of Acme leaders.

    As you know from the communications about the program that you received before we began [and from your involvement as an assessor during the program], the purpose of the Acme Leadership Assessment Program is to identify the top 20 percent of all Acme leaders so that their development can be accelerated, the vital 70 percent, and the bottom 10 percent who will be asked to leave the company and find better opportunities for their careers in another company.

    You were assessed carefully and thoughtfully against the Acme leadership criteria, and you have been assessed in the bottom ten percent.

    Before we talk further about where we go from here, are there any questions you’d like to ask me about the process?

    Answer questions. If there was a specific deficiency involving one of the Acme leadership criteria that resulted in the individual’s being assessed in the lowest 10 percent, explain what that specific deficiency was. If the ranking resulted from an overall competitive placement, explain that. Don’t argue or defend the assessment decision, other than saying:

  • The decision-making process was rigorous and fair.

  • You personally agree with the accuracy of assessment.

    If the individual asks about the possibility of appealing the decision or being given a "second chance," explain that you are prepared to talk about that separately. First, however, you want to review the plan of action that you believe will work out best for everyone.

    Let’s talk about what’s going to happen as a result of this assessment. To begin, both of us have a responsibility to maintain the confidentiality of your assessment. While the company has communicated openly about the fact that we are using a leadership assessment process and the way the program works, the actual evaluations of individuals are confidential. I expect you not to discuss your assessment with anyone who’s not directly involved with the process, and I will only be discussing your assessment with others on a formal and official basis.

    Let me explain more specifically what your assessment means. It means that we will be asking you to leave the Acme Services Company and find a career opportunity with another organization.

    We realize that this will be a difficult transition for you, and we want to do all that we can to make your departure as professional and dignified as we can.

    We have prepared a separation package that I want to review with you.

    Review the details of the separation package. Discuss each element of the package and explain how it benefits the individual. Answer any questions. Discuss your belief that the package that the company has put together is appropriate and generous, and that it is in the individual’s best interest to accept it.

    Review the requirement that the individual must sign a release in order to be eligible to receive the package.

    Discuss the timing for accepting the package and leaving the company.

    Jan, I believe that the assessment that was made is an accurate one and that your talents will be best used in another organization. I feel that the separation package that the company has put together for you is very fair and that it is in your best interest to accept it.

    You asked me if you have any recourse if you think that the assessment we have made is incorrect. Yes, you do have a recourse. If you sincerely believe that our assessment is inaccurate and you want to demonstrate that your performance against the four Acme leadership criteria is significantly better than that of the other Acme employees with whom you were compared, we will give you the opportunity to prove us wrong.

    You will be allowed to reject the package I have just offered you. You will be given a maximum of 90 days to demonstrate that you genuinely excel in your performance against the four Acme leadership criteria of executing with excellence, demonstrating a passion for results, succeeding with people, and making tough decisions. At the end of that 90 day period, the same people who made the original assessment will review you again against the same population of Acme leaders that you were compared against originally.

    If this new assessment reveals that our original assessment was wrong and that you are solidly in the ranks of the vital 70 percent of all Acme leaders, that new assessment will stand. If, however, the new assessment is the same as the assessment that we have just made, you will be asked to immediately leave the company. In addition, the separation package we have just discussed will not be the same.

Review the revised separation package.
    Jan, it is critically important that you understand what you will need to do if you choose to reject the separation package we are offering you. It is not a matter of getting better or improving your performance or solving a problem. You will need to demonstrate that you not only excel in the four Acme leadership criteria, but that your performance against these four criteria is significantly better than a large number of other Acme managers at your level.

    If the individual decides to accept the package and leave Acme, thank the person for his service to the company and express your sincere conviction that he is making the right decision. Advise the individual that by law he has ________ days to change his mind. Advise the individual of any other legal or Acme Services Company policies or procedures that affect his departure.

    If the individual says that he wants time to think things over, advise him of the time requirements for making a decision and any other policies or procedures.

    Jan, I know that this is a very difficult situation for you. I want you to know that I personally believe that you have made a solid contribution to Acme, and that you will have a great deal of success in wherever your career path takes you.

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.

Workforce Management Online, November 2005 -- Register Now!

Recent Articles by Dick Grote

Comments powered by Disqus

Hr Jobs

Loading
View All Job Listings