Tag Archives: Bias

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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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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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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Creating Productive Thought Patterns through “Thought Self-Leadership”

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis

Leaders’ actions actions are influenced by internal commentaries and judgments.
Often, these thoughts are self-critical, provoking anxiety.

Aaron Beck

Aaron Beck

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), developed by University of Pennsylvania’s Aaron Beck, provides a systematic way to restructure “irrational self-talk“,  as do Albert Ellis‘s Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (RET), and David Burnssynthesis of CBT and RET.

David Burns

David Burns

Arizona State University’s Charles Manz and Chris Neck  translated these self-management concepts to managerial development.
They outlined a Thought Self-Leadership Procedure as a five-step feedback loop:

Charles Manz

Charles Manz

1. Observe and record thoughts,
2. Analyze thoughts,
3. Develop new thoughts,
4. Substitute new thoughts,
5. Monitor and Maintain new, productive thoughts.

-*What practices do you use to develop and apply productive thought patterns under pressure?

Chris Neck

Chris Neck

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Negotiation Drama: Strategic Umbrage, Line-Crossing Illusion, and Assertiveness Biases

Daniel R Ames

Daniel R Ames

Optimally matching assertiveness style to specific situations can determine success in negotiations, according to Columbia University’s Daniel Ames and Abbie Wazlawek.

Abbie Wazlawek

Abbie Wazlawek

Earlier, Ames and Stanford’s Frank Flynn reported that moderate levels of assertiveness are associated with career advancement, and with effective negotiation and influence in conflict situations.
They also found that most observers provided consistent ratings of managerial under-assertiveness and over-assertiveness.

Francis Flynn

Francis Flynn

However, most people do not accurately assess others’ evaluation of their assertiveness in specific situations.
Over-assertive individuals tend to have less-accurate self-perception than less assertive people, and both groups experience “self-awareness blindness.
These inaccurate self-perceptions may develop from polite yet inaccurate feedback from others, which provides faulty information.

More than 80% of participants reported that they had expressed greater objections than they actually felt to influence the negotiation partner, and said they observed exaggerated objections by their negotiation partners.

Daniel Ames Assertiveness

Self-awareness resulted in most favorable negotiation outcomes: More than 80% of negotiators rated by others and by themselves as “appropriately assertive in the situation” negotiated greatest value to both parties.

Ames Assertiveness U CurveStrategic umbrage also appeared effective:  People who received these intentional emotional displays by their negotiation partners were more likely to rate themselves as over-assertive in their negotiation position.
However, negotiators who applied strategic umbrage rated these self-critical negotiation partners as appropriately assertiveness.
Ames and Watzlawek called this misperception of others’ perceptions the line-crossing illusion.

This mismatch between negotiation partners’ ratings of appropriate assertiveness was linked with poorer negotiation outcomes:  Nearly 60% of negotiators who were rated as appropriately assertive but felt over-assertive (line-crossing illusion) negotiated the inferior deals for themselves and their counterparts.
This suggests that disingenuous emotional displays of strategic umbrage lead negotiation partners to seek the first acceptable deal, rather than pushing for an optimal deal.

Jeffrey Kern

Jeffrey Kern

To improve accuracy of meta-perception – other people’s perception of assertiveness style – Ames and Wazlawek suggested:

-Participate in 360 degree feedback,

-Increase skill in listening for content and meaning,

Consider whether negotiation proposals are reasonable in light of alternatives,

-Request feedback on reactions to “strategic umbrage” displays to better understand perceptions of “offer reasonableness,

-Evaluate costs and benefits of specific assertiveness styles:

Gary Yukl

Over-assertiveness may provide the benefit of “claiming value” in a negotiation but the cost may be ruptured interpersonal relationships and a legacy of ill-will, according to Jeffrey M. Kern of Texas A&M as well as SUNY’s Cecilia Falbe and Gary Yukl.

  • Consider cultural norms for assertiveness regulation in “low context” cultures like Israel, where dramatic displays are frequent and expected in negotiations.In contrast, “high context” cultures like Japan require more nuanced assertiveness, with fewer direct disagreements and “strategic umbrage” displays, according to Edward T. Hall, then of the U.S. Department of State.
Edward T Hall

Edward T Hall

Likewise, under-assertiveness may minimize interpersonal conflict, but may lead to poorer negotiation outcomes and undermined credibility in future interactions, according to Ames’ related research.

To augment a less assertiveness style:

  • Set slightly higher goals,
  • Reconsider assumptions that greater assertion leads to conflict,
  • Consider that proactivity may lead to increased respect and improved outcomes
  • Assess the outcome of collaborating with more assertive others.

To modulate a more assertiveness style:

  • Make slight concessions to increase rapport and trust with others,
  • Observe and evaluate the impact of collaborating with less assertive others.

The line-crossing illusion is an example of a self-perception bias in which personal ratings of behavior may not match other people’s perceptions, and others’ behaviors can attenuate individual confidence and assertiveness.

*How do you reduce the risk of developing the line-crossing illusion in response to other people’s displays of “strategic umbrage”?

*How do you match your degree of assertiveness to negotiation situations?

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Gender Transitions Demonstrate Continuing Gender Differences in Pay, Workplace Experience

People who change gender illustrate the impact of gender on workplace experience and compensation, while holding constant the person’s education and experience.

Two Stanford professors’ experience in gender transition highlight findings by University of Chicago’s Kristen Schilt.

Joan Roughgarden

Joan Roughgarden – Jonathan Roughgarden

Stanford’s Joan Roughgarden, was an evolutionary biologist for more than 25 years as Jonathan Roughgarden before she made her male-to-female (MTF) transition.
Known for her work integrating evolutionary theory with Christian beliefs (“theistic evolutionism”), she reported feeling less able to make bold hypotheses and no longer had “the right to be wrong.”

Her experience contrasts woth Stanford colleague, neurobiologist Ben Barres, who made scientific contributions as Barbara Barres until he was more than 40.

Barbara Barres - Ben Barres

Barbara Barres – Ben Barres

After his female-to-male (FTM) transition, Ben delivered a lecture at the  Whitehead Institute, where an audience member commented, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Schilt surveyed FTM and MTF to compare earnings and employment experiences before and after gender transitions.
with questions similar to 2002 Current Population Survey (CPS) survey items:

  • Last job before gender transition,
  • First job after gender transition,
  • Most recent job.
Kristen Schilt

Kristen Schilt

Female-to-male transsexuals (FTMs) reported that as men, they received more authority, reward, and respect in the workplace than they received as women, even when they remained in the same jobs.

Height and skin color affected potential advantages enjoyed by FTM:  Tall, white FTMs experienced greater benefits than short FTMs and FTMs of color.

In contrast, MTF reported reduced authority and pay, and often harassment and termination.

University of Illinois’s Donald McCloskey, for example, was told by his department chair – in jest – that he could expect a salary reduction when he became Deirdre McCloskey.

Deirdre McCloskey

Deirdre McCloskey

However, salary reduction was no joke for MTFs in Schilt’s survey sample.
Participants reported significant losses of 12% in hourly earnings after becoming female.

Additionally, MTFs transitioned on average 10 years later than FTMs, delaying the loss of labor market advantages attributable to male gender.

FTMs, however, experienced no change in earnings or small positive increases up to 7.5% in earnings after transitioning to becoming men.

Any gender transition was associated with risks of harassment and discrimination, reported more frequently in “blue-collar” jobs, particularly for those with “non-normative” appearance and not consistently “passing” as the other gender.

These “naturalistic experiments” confirm continuing gender-based pay discrepancies.

-*To what extent have you observed these gender-linked differences in compensation and workplace credibility?

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