How to Make a Stack Ranking System Work for You

Performance Review FormMicrosoft’s practice of stack ranking employees is being blamed for everything from a bad work environment to a lack of innovation. But ranking workers from top to bottom according to their performance can benefit both the company and its employees, if it’s done correctly.

Employee rankings should be part of a consolidated review that looks at the grades on annual performance reviews, wage and salary data and other industry benchmarks to determine whether the largest raises and bonuses are being awarded to top performers. Forcing line managers to rank employees and justify their decisions can discourage favoritism and force them to deal with non-performers.

Since it’s estimated that 75 percent of companies use some form of stack ranking, here’s how you can navigate the system.

Know Where You Rank

Because the lowest ranking employees are often the first to go during a management shake-up or economic downturn, know where you stand. If your ranking doesn’t comport with the grade or comments on your performance, ask your manager to explain the disparity and how you can improve.

Maintain Focus and Perspective

Of course you want to keep an eye on your competitors, but remember to focus on things you can control — like your own performance. Do you need to increase your visibility by volunteering for mission critical projects? Should you seek out a high-profile mentor? Small changes can boost your standing, plus senior leaders may question your low ranking if you’ve made a favorable impression.

Toot Your Own Horn

Take every opportunity to tell your boss about your successes and hard work. You may not be comfortable being so forward, but it’s important: It’ll help him remember those nuggets of information when it’s time to rank the team.

Does stack ranking invite back stabbing and kill innovation? Tell me in the comments below.


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One Response to “How to Make a Stack Ranking System Work for You”

  1. Clay Montgomery

    Stack ranking is a disaster in a tech company because it systematically roots out creative and innovative people in favor of drones who game the system. The evidence is undeniable. It is no coincidence that many of the largest tech companies with stack ranking are suffering from a lack of innovation, including Microsoft, GE and Texas Instruments. The solution is really quite simple, avoid these companies in favor of smaller tech companies with competent management.