Category Archives: Career Development

Career Development

Do Unintended Consequences of Forced-Ranking of Employee Performance Outweigh their Short-Term Benefits?

Forced ranking (“stack ranking” or “rank and yank”) of employee performance was one contribution to MSFT’s loss of momentum, according to Kurt Eichenwald’s article on How Microsoft lost its Mojo. 

His extensive interviews with current and past Microsoft employees point to forced rankings leading to:

  •     Competitive sabotage and undermining of peers
  •     Focus on short-term results that coincide with twice-yearly rankings
  •     Undermined intrinsic motivation in face of  “impossible”-seeming odds
  •     Reduced innovation
  •     Lack of collaboration
  •     Focus on “visibility” to managers’ peers instead of improving performance
  •     Misguided decisions
  •     Mistrust of management and colleagues
  •     Unwanted attrition
  •     Stress for all.Forced ranking systems, used by a substantial number of Fortune 500 companies, is the eighth most-frequently used appraisal technique in the U.S.

It requires management teams to evaluate employees’ performance against other employees, rather against pre-determined standards.
The goal is to create a meritocracy in which superior performance is recognized and under-performance is “managed.”

Steve Scullen

Steve Scullen evaluated “forced distribution rating system” (FDRS) in a simulation study of 100 companies of 100 employees each over a three year period.
He reported in Personnel Journal that forced ranking and hypothetically firing of the bottom 5% or 10%, resulted in a 16% productivity improvement.
Productivity gains increase when more low performers were removed.

He acknowledged the negative consequences of forced rankings for employee morale, teamwork, collaboration, recruitment, shareholder perception, and brand image.
Nevertheless, Scullen found that the potential problems were counterbalanced by benefits.

Scullen determined that most benefit from forced ranking comes in the first few years of implementation: “…each time a company improves its workforce by replacing an employee with a new hire, it becomes more difficult to do so again… the better the workforce is, the more difficult it must be to hire applicants who are superior to the current employees who would be fired.

Dick Grote’s Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work, argues that most companies achieve benefits of forced ranking systems in “a few years” and are advised to replace
forced ranking with other talent management initiatives after the organization has implemented a refined selection process to ensure hiring top talent.

Peter Capelli

Peter Cappelli of The Wharton School and author of Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty, quantified the benefit of removing low performers:  This group contributes about five times less to organizations than high performers, according to his research.

In contrast, Alys Woodward of IDC challenged these arguments in her article on misunderstanding and misuse of statistics in stack ranking.

Alys Woodward

She concluded that “stack ranking assumes the statistics dictate reality, rather than reflect reality.”

Likewise, W. Edwards Deming opposed ranking because he thought that it destroys pride in workmanship, and opined that “the only way to improve a product or service is for management to improve the system that creates that product or service. Rewarding or punishing individuals trapped in the system is pointless and counterproductive.”

W. Edwards Deming

Robert Mathis and John Jackson pointed out potential legal challenges to stack-ranking.
They note that the practice may be difficult to defend in a court test because it does not comply with the following legal criteria:

  •     Criteria based on job analysis
  •     Absence of disparate impact and evidence of validity
  •     Formal evaluation criteria that limit managerial discretion
  •     Rating linked to job duties and responsibilities
  •     Documentation of appraisal activities
  •     Prevents action from controlling employee’s career
  •     Counseling to help poor performers improve

Though most employees do not seek out employers who use stack ranking, organizations may realize a short-term benefit in streamlining the workforce.
However, the practice may have unintended “soft” consequences, legal challenges, and time-limited value.

-*What positive and negative impacts have you observed related to forced-ranking appraisal systems?

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Intrinsic Motives, not Positive Consequences Linked to Achieving Goals, Career Performance

Amy Wrzesniewski

Amy Wrzesniewski

Sustained effort toward a goal may be intrinsically motivated by personal commitment to a larger “mission.”
At the same time, goal-seeking activity may be extrinsically motivated by external rewards, counteracting intrinsic motivation’s positive impact on effective career performance.

Xiangyu Cong

Xiangyu Cong

This complex interaction of internal and external motives was investigated among more than 10,000 people admitted to the United States Military Academy (“West Point”) by Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski, Xiangyu Cong, Michael Kane, Audrey Omar, and Thomas Kolditz, with Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore.

Michael John Kane

Michael John Kane

Wrzesniewski’s team considered the long-term impact of holding both intrinsic motives (desire to serve and protect citizens) and extrinsic motives (have a respected career) for attending West Point cadets on:

-Promotion to commissioned officer rank,

-Extending officer service beyond the minimum required period of 5 years,

-Selection for early career promotions.

Audrey Omar

Audrey Omar

Cadets who were intrinsically motivated were more likely to accomplish these goals.
However, those who also reported extrinsic motivation were less likely to achieve these career distinctions.

Richard Koestner

Richard Koestner

A meta-analytic review of nearly 130 experiments by University of Rochester’s Edward Deci and Richard Ryan with Richard Koestner of McGill confirmed the undermining effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation from childhood through adulthood.

Mark Lepper

Mark Lepper

People may report less intrinsic motivation when extrinsic rewards are available, a phenomenon called the “overjustification hypothesis”  by Stanford’s Mark Lepper, David Greene, and Richard Nisbett of University of Michigan.

Clark McCauley

Clark McCauley

People typically view their work as being intrinsically or extrinsically motivated in a typology that differentiated

Job, mostly extrinsically motivated,

-Career, some intrinsic and extrinsic motivation,

C-alling, intrinsically motivated by fulfillment from the work itself, resulting in greater satisfaction and better performance than the other two orientations, according to Wrzesniewski’s work with Schwartz, collaborating with Bryn Mawr’s Clark McCauley and Paul Rozin of Penn.

Paul Rozin

Paul Rozin

These results  empirically support guidance to find meaning in work rather than to focus on positive consequences of goal achievement.

Thomas Kolditz

Thomas Kolditz

This is especially relevant because the U.S. Military employs extrinsic motive appeals in marketing messages to recruit cadets, suggesting that military services provides “money for college,” “career training,” and enables members to “see the world.”

However, extrinsic motives tend to be associated with less career recognition and tenure than those who find meaning in the organization’s mission.

-*How do you increase intrinsic motivation when extrinsic motivation may seem more appealing?

-*What elements make your work “a calling”?

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Defining Elusive Elements of “Executive Presence”

Fewer researchers have empirically investigated behaviors and characteristics associated with “Executive Presence” than the number of consultants offering recommendations on how to develop this quality and its potential association with career advancement.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Communication, “Gravitas”, and Appearance were associated with “executive presence” in a study by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation

Gavin Dagley

Interviews with 34 professionals, conducted by Perspex Consulting’s Gavin Dagley and Cadeyrn J. Gaskin, formerly of Deakin University, uncovered more elements than Hewitt’s proposed triad of qualities.

Caderyn Gaskin

They found that most executives described as having “presence” were men, reinforcing Hewitt’s assertion that women interested in career advancement should focus on conveying executive presence attributes to observers.

Dagley and Gaskin identified ten characteristics including those mentioned by Hewitt.
The first five characteristics are based on first impressions during initial contact:

  • Status and reputation, similar to “gravitas” discussed by Hewitt,
  • Physical appearance, also mentioned by Hewitt,
  • Confidence,
  • Communication ability, included in Hewitt’s “presence” triad,
  • Interpersonal engagement skills.

The final five attributes derive from evaluations over time during repeated contacts:

  • Interpersonal integrity,
  • Values-in-action,
  • Intellect and expertise,
  • Outcome delivery,
  • Coercive power.

These qualities combine in different ways to form four presence “archetypes”:

  • Positive presence, based on favorable impressions of confidence, communication, appearance, and engagement skills plus favorable evaluations of values, intellect, and expertise,
  • Unexpected presence, linked to unfavorable impressions of confidence plus favorable evaluations of intellect, expertise, and values,
  • Unsustainable presence combines favorable impressions of confidence, status, reputation, communication, and engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values and integrity,
  • “Dark presence” is associated with unfavorable perceptions of engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values, integrity, and coercive use of power.
Philippe De Backer

Philippe De Backer

Another typology of executive presence characteristics was identified by Sharon V. Voros and Bain’s Philippe de Backer.
They prioritized elements in order of importance to purportedly related life outcomes:

  • Focus on long term, strategic drivers,
  • Intellect,
  • Charisma, combining confidence, intensity, commitment, plus demeanor of care, concern and interest in others,
  • Communication skills,
  • Passion,
  • Cultural fit,
  • Poise,
  • Appearance.

Most people assume a relationship between “executive presence” and career “success,” even if the causal connection has not been demonstrated.

Fred Luthans

Fred Luthans

However, University of Nebraska’s Fred Luthans and Stuart Rosenkrantz with Richard M. Hodgetts of Florida International University investigated this relationship by observing nearly 300 managers from various levels at large and small mainstream organizations as they:

  • Communicated,
  • Engaged in “traditional management” activities, including planning, decision making, controlling,
  • Managed human resource issues.
Richard Hodgetts

Richard Hodgetts

Communication and interpersonal skills elements of “presence,” coupled with intentional “networking” and political acumen enabled managers to rapidly advance in their organizations.

Luthans and team identified these managers as “successful” leaders because they advanced more rapidly than “effective” managers, measured by participants’ organizational level compare with their organizational tenure.
In contrast, “effective” managers demonstrated greater managerial skill than “successful” managers, but were not promoted as quickly.

“Effective” managers spent most time managing human resource activities including:

  • Motivating/reinforcing,
  • Managing conflict,
  • Hiring/staffing,
  • Training/developing team members,
  • Communicating by exchanging information,
  • Processing paperwork.
Stuart Rosenkrantz

Stuart Rosenkrantz

Their subordinates reported more positive attitudes and behaviors than subordinates of “successful” managers for:

  • Job satisfaction,
  • Organizational commitment,
  • High team performance quality,
  • High team performance quantity.

Differences in advancement and subordinate reactions to “successful” and “effective” managers appear related to differing managerial behaviors.

Fred Luthans-Effective Managers“Successful” managers spent little time in managerial activities, but invested more effort in networking, socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders.
Their networking activities were most strongly related to career advancement but weakly associated with “effectiveness.”

Few managers were both “successful” and “effective”:  Only about 10% of volunteers were among the top third of both successful managers and effective managers.
These findings can lead to discouragement and cynicism, noting that effective managers who support employee performance may not be rewarded with advancement as rapidly as managers who prioritize their career over that of their employees.

These studies suggest that gravitas, communication, and political acumen may explain the gender difference for perceived “executive presence.”
Women who aspire to organizational advancement seem to benefit from cultivating both gravitas and proactive networking to complement communication and interpersonal skills.

-*Which behaviors and characteristics are essential to “Executive Presence”?

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Acknowledge Potential Employer “Concerns” about Gender, Attractiveness to Get Job Offer

Although attractive people enjoy many advantagesattractive women applying for jobs in traditionally male jobs face a double disadvantage: gender and appearance.

Madeline Heilman

Madeline Heilman

The “beauty is beastly effect” is a hiring bias favoring men or less attractive women for “masculine” jobs, first described by Yale University’s Madeline E. Heilman and Lois R. Saruwatari.

Lois Suruwatari

Lois Suruwatari

They found that attractiveness was an advantage for men seeking managerial and non-managerial roles, but attractive women had an advantage only when seeking lower-level, non-managerial roles.

Michelle Hebl

Michelle Hebl

Attractiveness and gender can be considered a “stigma,” just as disability, obesity, and race.
Rice University’s Michelle R. Hebl and Robert E. Kleck of Dartmouth College reported that people in these categories can reduce hiring biases by acknowledging their “stigmatizing” characteristic during the interview.

Robert Kleck

Robert Kleck

In addition, women who proactively addressed the employers potential concern about gender or appearance in a traditionally male role were rated higher in employment suitability in a study by University or Colorado’s Stefanie K. Johnson and Traci Sitzmann, with Anh Thuy Nguyen of Illinois Institute of Technology.

Stefanie Johnson

Stefanie Johnson

These candidates were assumed to possess more positive “masculine” traits than other female candidates and evaluators were less likely to penalize these women for behaving in contrast to traditional gender role norms.

Traci Sitzmann

Traci Sitzmann

Attractive women’s pre-emptive communication favorably influenced rater’s evaluations of employment suitability.
This proactive approach buffered the impact “hostile sexism” while increasing “benevolent sexism’s” link to employment suitability ratings.

-*How effective you found “pre-emptive objection-handling” in workplace negotiations?

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Women May Undermine Salary Negotiations with Excessive Gratitude

Negotiators and poker players know the value of limiting full self-disclosure in words and non-verbal expressions.

Andreas Leibbrandt

Andreas Leibbrandt

However, some women undermined their salary negotiations by revealing their gratitude for a salary that exceeded their expectations in an experiment by Monash University’s Andreas Leibbrandt and John A. List of the University of Chicago.

John List

John List

Participants were women applying for administrative assistant jobs with a posted wage of $17.60 USD per hour.

Researchers told some volunteers that the wages were “negotiable,” and these women negotiated their pay upward by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.
This result echoes previous findings that women frequently do not negotiate unless given explicit permission, and consequently, have lower salary offers than those who negotiate.

Leibbrandt and List tested this hypothesis by not mentioning negotiation to the remaining participants, and these women typically provided “too much information” by remarking that the posted wage “exceeds my expectations. I am willing to work for a minimum of $12.”

Edward E. Jones

Edward E. Jones

Though this approach likely leads to lower salary, it could be considered strategic ingratiation.
This negotiation approach that can take several forms, according to Duke University’s Edward E. Jones:

-Self-presentation (self-enhancement or “one-down” humility, providing favors or gifts),

-Flattery (“other-enhancement” either directly or ensuring word-or-mouth report of positive yet credible comments),

-Agreement (opinion-conformity, non-verbal matching-mimicry).

The ingratiator’s intent in this study may have been to enhance the future working relationship, but could cause the negotiation partner to question the applicant’s judgment, qualifications, and confidence.
The longer term impact in workplace settings is to delay salary increases because the candidate appeared satisfied with the original offer.

Steven H. Appelbaum

Steven H. Appelbaum

However, “strategic ingratiation” may result in promotion or pay increase, according to Concordia University’s Steven H. Appelbaum and Brent Hughes.

They found that effective use of “strategic ingratiation” was influenced  by situational and individual factors including:

  • Machiavellianism,
  • Locus of control,
  • Work task uniqueness.
Jeffrey Flory

Jeffrey Flory

In another of Leibbrandt and List’s randomized field studies, collaborating with Concordia colleague Jeffrey Flory, they found that among nearly 2,500 job-seekers, men did not wait for permission to negotiate when no statement was made about salary discussions.

In fact, male participants said they prefer ambiguous salary negotiation norms.
Despite women’s general hesitance to negotiate without an invitation, women advocated for more favorable salaries at about the same rate as men when invited.

The team extended these findings by analyzing nearly 7,000 job-seekers with varying compensation plans.
In “competitive work settings,” salary negotiation was typically expected, and men stated a preference for these work environments.

Leibbrandt, List and Flory concluded that women accept “competitive” workplaces provided “the job task is female-oriented” and the local labor market leaves few alternatives.

Women looking for better salary outcomes benefit from proposing their “aspirational salaries” rather than waiting for permission to negotiate.
In addition, women negotiators can achieve better outcomes when they offer moderate expressions of gratitude and avoid revealing their “reserve” salary figure.

-*In what work situations have you benefitted from applying ‘strategic ingratiation’?

-*To what extent have expressions of gratitude in negotiation undermined bargaining outcomes?

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Perceived Diversity = “Like Me”

Christopher Bauman

Christopher Bauman

Judgments of “diversity” are rarely completely objective:
People tend to rate a group as “diverse” when it includes members of the evaluator’s race, found University of California, Irvine’s Christopher W. Bauman, Sophie Trawalter of University of Virginia and UCLA’s Miguel M. Unzueta.

Sophie Trawalter

Sophie Trawalter

Almost 1900 volunteers from diverse racial groups rated headshots of a fictional company’s six-person management team for its “ethnically diversity”:

  • Caucasian team” included six white headshots (100% white),
  • Asian team” showed four white and two Asian people (mirroring the 66% majority of white people in the U.S.),
  • Black team” featured four white and two black people (66% white),
  • Asian + Black” team had four white, one black, and one Asian person (66% white).
Miguel Unzueta

Miguel Unzueta

Members of racial minority groups rated leadership groups as “more diverse” when they included members of their own racial group rather than members of other racial minority groups.

Participants rated groups as it “less racially diverse” when they did not include at least one member of their own racial group.
This “in-group representation effect” was stronger for African Americans than for Asian Americans.

In another study, more than 1,000 volunteers read news articles about the prevalence of prejudice, then provided ratings.
They showed no “in-group representation effect,” suggesting that reading about how another minority group suffers from prejudice reduced raters’ self-referential evaluation bias.

These results indicate that people’s expectations affect perceptions of diversity.
Priming awareness and empathy for similar experiences encountered by other groups reduced in-group biases.

Jim Sidanius

Jim Sidanius

African Americans are often judged as experiencing:

Lower social status,

More negative stereotypes,

More discrimination, reported Harvard’s Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto of University of Connecticut.

Felicia Pratto

Felicia Pratto

In contrast, Asian Americans tend to be attributed higher status so report less discrimination than other racial minority groups.

Andrea Romero

Andrea Romero

Despite this advantage, Asian Americans have a lower return on their investment in education than Whites, even though they achieve higher levels of education and income than other racial minority groups, reported University of Arizona’s Andrea Romero with Robert Roberts of University of Texas and another group led by UT colleague Myrtle P. Bell with David A. Harrison and Mary E. McLaughlin.

Myrtle P Bell

Myrtle P Bell

Higher levels of “diversity” have been linked to greater:

Valerie Purdie-Vaughns

Valerie Purdie-Vaughns

These findings were confirmed in studies by Columbia’s Valerie Purdie-Vaughns and Ruth Ditlmann, Claude M. Steele of Stanford, University of British Columbia’s Paul G. Davies and Jennifer Randall Crosby of Williams College and separate work by UCLA’s Jaana Juvonen and Sandra Graham with University of California Davis’s Adrienne Nishina 

Jaana Juvonen

Jaana Juvonen

Diversity is “in the eye of the beholder” because a team may appear more diverse to raters when the group’s composition aligns with the observers’ own characteristics.

-*How do you reduce personal in-group biases based on individual expectations and experiences?


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Male Peer Raters Discount Women’s Expertise in Science, Engineering

J Stuart Bunderson

J Stuart Bunderson

Problem-solving work groups and individual career development benefit from accurate recognition and deployment of expertise.

Nancy DiTomaso

Nancy DiTomaso

People who are perceived as experts by team members, regardless of their actual expertise, have a number of career advantages, found Washington University’s J. Stuart Bunderson:

  • Greater influence in group decision-making,
  • More opportunities to perform,
  • Great opportunity for team leadership roles.
D Randall Smith

D Randall Smith

In addition, peer evaluations of expertise frequently contribute to individual rewards, compensation, and advancement, noted Rutgers’ Nancy DiTomaso, D. Randall Smith and George F. Farris with Corinne Post of Pace University and New Jersey Institute of Technology ‘s Rene Cordero.

Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Teams benefit when they accurately identify and use group members’ expertise because they perform more effectively and produce higher quality work products, found Cornell’s Melissa C. Thomas-Hunt, Tonya Y. Ogden of Washington University, and Stanford’s Margaret A. Neale.

Aparna Joshi

Aparna Joshi

However, women in science and engineering do not have equal opportunities to fully use their expertise in work groups, and to receive commensurate rewards, reported Penn State’s Aparna Joshi.

George Farris

George Farris

She obtained peer ratings and longitudinal research productivity data for 500 scientists and engineers and found that women’s technical expertise was undervalued by male colleagues in peer ratings.

Rene Cordero

Rene Cordero

Male and female raters assigned different importance to education when evaluating team members’ expertise.
Women’s ratings were correlated with the target person’s education level, but males evaluators considered educational attainment less than male gender in assigning highest ratings for expertise.

As a result, women’s highest ratings went to those with the highest education level, whereas men’s top evaluations were assigned to other men, no matter their education level.

Margaret Neale

Margaret Neale

Women received significantly lower expertise evaluations than men, and men evaluated highly educated women more negatively than female raters who assessed their peers.

These findings suggest that male peers discount women’s educational achievements and are unlikely to effectively use women’s expertise, to the detriment of team work output as well as individual recognition.

-*How do you ensure that your expertise is recognized and applied in work groups?


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