Tag Archives: Talent

Stack ranking, one of the worst ways to approach an already flawed idea

There’s a pattern here, Vijay posts up something on HR and I feel compelled to reply but end up writing far more opinionated rubbish than I should…


Nice post Vijay! But I will disagree.

Comparative employee rating (also known as stack ranking, vitality curves, rank and yank…) does not IMNSHO lead to useful or helpful results. In the case where enough employees are available to make bell curves a statistical likelihood (which I think would mean a huge number of employees and a huge variation in management and employee prowess which would most likely indicate a failed recruitment process, rather than a diverse company) then the likelihood that it would be possible to accurately compare one employee with another is very limited, Stack ranking only (doesn’t) works when it is possible to compare the employees. Which means the employees likely know each other, which means it’s probably in their own interests to screw each other’s performance. Check out the well publicised story at Microsoft – http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2012/08/microsoft-lost-mojo-steve-ballmer – under heading “The Bell Curve”.

“If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

As I have previously mentioned I think the whole idea of performance reviews and ratings does nothing to help the employees, rather it just helps identify where good and bad management is occurring in the organisation. When we start linking review scores to payment, it gets even worse. Why? Because employees then start linking (even more strongly than they do already) their salary with their perceived self worth. Then when for whatever reason a large pay increase is not possible, the employee values themselves less. In the worst cases of this I have come across organisations where the employee contracts state that a performance review rating of 5 equates to n% of salary bonus payment, whilst a 4 is slightly less, and so on. The organisations have fixed salary/bonus budgets, so in order to pay out, they adjust the employees’ performance rating down (very rarely up!) so that the budget is met. Excellent employees are told that they are just “good” because there isn’t the budget to pay them if we tell them that they really are excellent.

I believe that there is a place for strongly objective reviews of employees, it’s the dark side of performance management. It’s that work that you need to do to be able to fire a disruptive or underperforming employee without having your arse hauled through the courts for unfair dismissal. Probably not an issue in the US I hear, but certainly a consideration in countries where the law is a little more friendly to employees. However, to drag all employees through a similar procedure when you don’t intend to fire them in the end, is not ideal methinks.

crystal ball


Peering into the future, short and longer term

Given my thoughts (and of course I haven’t a lot to back that up) that the only real positive value of current performance reviews is to evaluate the effectiveness of the management teams, I suggest that we remove the soul crunching and mainly pointless reviews and replace them with alternative ways of checking manager effectiveness. Google appears to have been doing a good job of this with its Project Oxygen and 360 reviews of managers – read the excellent HBR article http://hbr.org/2013/12/how-google-sold-its-engineers-on-management an excerpt which quotes one of the Google manager which illustrates the value of the program is below:

“I was surprised that one person on my team didn’t think I had regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. I saw this person every day, but the survey helped me realize that just seeing this person was different from having regularly scheduled individual meetings. My team also wanted me to spend more time sharing my vision. Personally, I have always been inspired by Eric [Schmidt], Larry, and Sergey; I thought my team was also getting a sense of the company’s vision from them. But this survey gave my team the opportunity to explain that they wanted me to interpret the higher-level vision for them. So I started listening to the company’s earnings call with a different ear. I didn’t just come back to my team with what was said; I also shared what it meant for them.”

This approach appears to be working at Google. Perhaps too well! A Google full of managers rather than leaders would be almost as bad a place to work as Yahoo for me. However, the concept of 360 reviews providing actionable areas for improvement, I think, is something that isn’t quite so blue sky. This is an idea we’d be better off implementing right now. I think there is a clear difference between “management” telling you that you could do better in areas compared to the team that you manage telling you that you could improve.

Looking to the longer term, I think it will not be far off where we can use data that we would not have considered analysing previously (social network graphs, semantic and sentiment analysis of work communication, external to enterprise group and social sentiment, etc.) to give us hints as to whether employees are more or less productive, motivated, stretched, likely to leave, etc. What is more, predictive analytics will improve in the HR space (hello HANA and comparing huge sets of data across multiple organisations available due to SaaS set up of the HR tools and therefore comparable data sets). We should start to be able to get that data and the predictions about how an employee is going to act in time to do some real time/preventive management (hopefully). This is going to be far more valuable than the formalised soul destroying performance appraisal process happening once every n months.

I’d go as far as to suggest formal reviews only exist because we have this feeling that we need to have something “objective” to use to manage our people. However, in reality the best/happiest/most productive workplaces are going to be those where the subjective views of the employees are that they are being well and fairly treated. I think we can do an awful lot more in our workplace to help our employees be happy and productive. And most of that improvement isn’t going to come from paying our employees more or telling them where on a scale of 1 to 5 they scored this year. Perhaps we like to think that an objective review feeds a subject view, I don’t think it does (or if it does, it’s rarely going to be positive.)

Edit – to try to clarify a few points here I wrote yet another post  To rank or not to rank, ‘cos that won’t work in the real world will it?


Should you be a manager?

A response to “Talent cannot be managed” by Vijay Vijayasankar.

I read Vijay’s excellent post http://andvijaysays.com/2013/08/29/talent-cannot-be-managed/ about how talent should be lead and not managed.

It seems to have had a stratospheric response, with lots of people loving it. I had to pause for a moment and wonder why.

My first thoughts – involve a little set logic


Of all the people that are out there in the world, there are PLENTY that are unmanageable. (n.b. I do realise I spelt that wrong in whiteboard sketch, some reason there isn’t a spell check on whiteboards (now that’s a cool idea for a future demojam)). There are also plenty that out there that desire leadership more than they like being managed. Of that group there is a small subgroup that are “talent”. I’ve drawn a bigger overlap with “desire leadership over management” for talent as I agree more with this, but the overlaps aren’t really supposed to indicate % of overlap, more that there is some.

Vijay defines some other things about “Talent”: Loyalty, requirement for trust, lack of scalability, need for direction, these are all other things I could have drawn on the diagram. In all cases, there would be an overlap with the other areas (although not being very good and drawing n-dimensional diagrams on a whiteboard I didn’t attempt it.)

The point I’d make is although Vijay states (and I’d tend to agree) that talent possess these attributes, these attributes do not define who is a “talent”.

However, I’m pretty sure that anyone that read the article would be able to identify with two or more of those attributes. Unless the reader had particularly great self awareness, then the “logical” jump is “if I have these attributes, I must be a talent”. Result – instant warm fuzzy feeling. Next result – share warm fuzzy feeling with as many other people as possible. Result, lots of reposting.

Ok, I’m being a little  😉 cynical here, but I don’t think I completely off. Vijay has written a lot of other articles that have been just as good, and many of them have been less subjective. But perhaps haven’t addresses such emotional areas. This article has had a huge response and I think in part (and compared to his other excellent blogs) it’s because of the group identity emotional response trigger that it pulls.

I’m waiting for his next blog “Actually, you’re not a talent” and see if that gets the same response 😉

But that wasn’t the post title – it was “Should you be a manager?”

When I read Vijay’s post it did trigger some thoughts though, primarily, if someone were to identify with these points and consider themselves a “talent” should they really be in the manager role? Now, in most companies in the world, it’s impossible to rise to the top unless you take on some people management skills. But should we, could we, reasonably expect a “talent” that by Vijay’s definitions, “doesn’t mix with non-talent” to effectively manage a team of anyone other than “talent”? Given how rare “talent” is to find, could we even expect such a team to ever exist?

Do we need to think about special training for our “talent” to make then a little more accepting? Or do we risk taking them out of that talent space if we start burdening them with management responsibilities? Or perhaps there are special “talents” that exist who’s talent is people management? What does it say about the career progression and potential of talent if we can’t make them people managers?

One of the comments that I made on reading the post was:

Management is distinct from leadership – Talent leads, that is clear, but can/should it manage? That’s my question back to you Vijay 🙂

Thanks for such a great post.




Who is this real ME?

This post is a response to the thought provoking post that Raj Sundarason posted on SCN – Identifying the Real Value of ME

In that post Raj talks about how:

“We need to embrace the concept of the “IDENTITY of ME.

Step 1: We need to recognize the different elements of My Identity (ME)

Step 2:  To scale and be successful we must find a way to tap into the value of ME

Step 3:  The Complete ME requires an integrated enabling infrastructure”

That grab of the bullet points of his post does not do it justice – go and read it yourself! But it will work as a nice framework for my response.

Recognising the social or not ME

I would suggest that the layers that make up an individual are very varied. In the same way that we see ridiculous personality profiling:

personality graph1

We can generate similar breakdowns on the factors of their identity:

personality graph2


You should note that these graphs were generated using random numbers in a spreadsheet, and mean absolutely nothing! But I bet you could recognise some people you knew looking at the data there if you looked. And here is where we have to be very, very careful. We take into any discussion about what makes up identity some very strong views of what defines identity is that are heavily influenced by the people that we surround ourselves with. A person who spends much of their time online (like myself) will naturally be more inclined to think about the online social interactions that take place. A person who is never online (yes, there are a few of those left) is more likely to think about person to person interaction. Even what makes up an identity is very much up for debate, is your community credibility part of your identity? (probably) or is it a result of the social and professional contributions? (probably). Whilst the 5 big personality traits are pretty well agreed (although putting them in a radar graph is a complete abuse) the points that make up an employee’s identity aren’t quite so well understood (as far as I know. There are probably hundreds of PhDs in sociology which discuss that and they probably even have some sort or acronym that is universally accepted to represent the different factors… But I don’t know about it so we’ll just assume that it doesn’t exist for the sake of a good story 😉 )

So to my point here. When we consider leveraging the power of an employee’s identity we need to consider that for different people this will need to be achieved in different ways. Whilst I think and agree that in many situations the general result is the same, if a strategy only addresses one aspect of an employee’s identity then the end result will vary wildly in the same way that identities are made up in wildly different ways.

Getting to the value of identity

So how do we actually use identity to give our business value? Well firstly I think we need to consider what we would loose if we do not recognise the value that an employee brings that is above and beyond their mandated position description. Perhaps this is what people talk about when they blather on about “cloud DNA” and how worried they are that Lars is leaving SAP. Personally I think that’s tummy-rot and one person will rarely have such an impact, no matter how strong their identity. But it does give a nice example of how we need to value and assign value to our employees by thinking about their identity in the wider sense.

So the next question must be, if we can see value in identity, how can we grow that value? To answer that question with another, does all identity growth equal value? Certainly in some areas, but not in others. If your employee is a passionate political advocate, they may well be growing their identity but also at some point you may find that the passion/identity conflicts with your business growth. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m quite passionate about environmental issues, I fear for the legacy we are leaving our children in the way that our planet is being abused. It’s quite possible that this will conflict with potential work that my company might partake in.

Identity has value, but it also has risks, leveraging one and recognising the other will take skill. Which brings me nicely to the final point.

Integrated analysis environment

I agree with Raj that by figuring out which parts of an employee’s identity can be leveraged towards business growth a company has the opportunity to create great wins. An employee who feels that their whole identity is supported by the company is going to be far more loyal and likely to produce results/recommendations/inspire others than one who feels that their company just doesn’t understand them.

To this point companies will need to be very careful in attempting to leverage the identities of their employees. Again I will use myself as an example: If my company asked me to start tweeting references to a new solution that we were marketing I would be very resentful. Why? Just read my thoughts on anti-social social media. I would move camp very quickly from feeling that my company was supporting me and was aware of what I was doing that was helpful to a view of “you just don’t understand!”

It’s like the return to work legislation here in Australia, you don’t encourage your employees to return to work, you support them. In the RTW situation it’s due to legal nuances that can stop you getting fined millions of dollars, but in general terms if you can support your employees to leverage their identity for your business cause, rather than putting any pressure (intended or not) then you’re on a winner. Supported employees are less likely to feel that you misunderstand them and more likely to join in (even if it’s not something they would have done without the support.)

But before you can offer support, you’d better understand where your people are and what they do and what makes up that diverse mix of identity in your population of employees. Thus the need for, rather than infrastructure to enable, infrastructure to analyse. Helping your people to be great online bloggers for your company makes no sense if your people aren’t interested in being near a computer once they leave the office. Likewise, targeting your employees to help recruitment at the next trade conference they attend is pointless if they will be avoiding any social contact whilst they are there.

In the race to use the connectedness and influence of our employees towards the good of the company, the first companies that are able to effectively analyse where their employees are at will have a huge advantage. I agree with Raj that we must also measure the effectiveness and dollar returns of the methods and processes that are put in place to leverage the identities, but this is pointless without understanding the base that we are manipulating  supporting.

To the end of analysing the identity make up of your employees, we are entering a phase where social network analysis is a real possibility within a company. Whether this analysis is through scanning email conversations for semantic meaning and the senders, recipients and cc’s used as nodes in an influence map. Or it’s through direct analysis of outside-of-enterprise relations with employees encouraged supported to upload their contact lists into gamified social referal solutions. The challenges with privacy will be the first obvious hurdle, but if Facebook has over a billion users then there are at least a few people who don’t care that much… Look out for the social media disclosure statement in your next employment contract, and I’ll bet your employer will be doing a lot more with your details than just monitoring your Klout score!

Summary to a long winded ramble that could have been composed in a pub on a Friday evening (but wasn’t)

Raj, I hope I added some value/response to your post! In summary, yes I agree, leverage the identities of your employees to a) build a better workplace for them and b) return better result for your company. And yes, I think that companies that will be able to do this will have a huge advantage. But I think the first and more important step is to start understanding who your people are outside of their current work personas. Understand the identities that you actually have, and once you have that information you will be in a better place to start thinking about how or even if you can use that information.



On building your own brand

Today I was lucky enough to attend a SAP Mentors web meeting where someone from SAP (I’m not sure if they want to be named so I’ll leave them their anonymity) presented about building your own brand.

It was an excellent session, but probably raised more questions for me than gave me answers.


I am lucky enough to be in a position where I directly influence how the company I work for is run. As such I would like to think that internally we do not (yet) have the need for employees to need to raise their own profile in order to get noticed and rewarded. If we end up in that space, we should probably start looking at our talent management processes as a matter of urgency. And if that comes to pass, I will be doing just that. (Hopefully by then using something like SuccessFactors will be a possibility for small to medium businesses beyond what the current Professional Edition offers).

However, perhaps self promotion is needed whatever size your company? Even if there are just two of you! I’ll discount the single person companies, if you don’t know what you’re doing yourself you’re in trouble! Whatever size you are unless you effectively communicate what you are doing to the others in your company, you are doing yourself (and the company) a disservice. But is effective communication about what you’re doing the same as self promotion? I’d guess, Yes and No.

I think there is a fair bit more to self branding – which is why I started writing this blog outside of the SCN space. But I think it’s important not to confuse that with ensuring your company has effective talent management processes and encourages communication.

Anyway, better do some work.