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How Adobe Got Rid of Traditional Stack-Ranking Performance Reviews 175

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Bob Sutton reports that in 2012 Adobe moved from yearly performance rankings to frequent "check-ins" where managers provide employees targeted coaching and advice. There is no prescribed format or frequency for these conversations, and managers don't complete any forms or use any technologies to guide or document what happens during such conversations. They are simply expected to have regular check-ins to convey what is expected of employees, give and get feedback, and help employees with their growth and development plans. 'The aim is to give people information when they need it rather than months after teachable moments have passed,' writes Sutton. Donna Morris, Adobe's senior vice president for People and Places, says her team calculated that annual reviews required 80,000 hours of time from the 2000 managers at Adobe each year, the equivalent of 40 full-time employees. After all that effort, internal surveys revealed that employees felt less inspired and motivated afterwards—and turnover increased. According to Sutton, Adobe's bold move seems to be working. Surveys indicates that most Adobe managers and employees find the new system to be less cumbersome and more effective than the old stack-ranking system where managers must divide employees into groups — for example, maybe 15 percent of people can be assigned the highest rating. 'That goes against our core value of being genuine,' says Ellie Gates, director of management effectiveness at Adobe. 'Our goal should be to inspire people to do their best work.' Since the new system was implemented, voluntary attrition has decreased substantially, while involuntary departures have increased by 50% because the new system requires executives and managers to have regular 'tough discussions' with employees who are struggling with performance issues—rather than putting them off until the next performance review cycle comes around. 'It is reducing unnecessary cognitive load, while at the same time, nudging managers to engage more often and more candidly with direct reports to help them develop their skills and plan their careers,' concludes Sutton. 'It also bolsters accountability because managers have far more responsibility for setting employee compensation than under the old system.'"
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How Adobe Got Rid of Traditional Stack-Ranking Performance Reviews

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  • Reviews (Score:4, Interesting)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Friday February 07, 2014 @01:22PM (#46187419)
    In Japan, the Manager is responsible if an employee screws up. If an individual does something merit worthy, the entire team takes credit. As well, the freshman hires have no say in their job assignment - higher ups work all that out and take any heat...they sort it later as skills and relationships mature.
  • storm drain (Score:4, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Friday February 07, 2014 @01:25PM (#46187455)

    The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Stack ranking, meet regression to the mean.

    Yes, p accomplishes 1-p (for some p, always) but it's not necessarily the same people in the p pie slice year over year. The Pareto does not state that 20% of the people with account for 80% of the output and will continue to do so, because as we all know 100% of what drives performance is whether you have it, or you don't, end of story.

    Sapolsky on Heights And Lengths And Areas Of Rectangles []:

    The problem with "a" gene-environment interaction is that there is no gene that does something. It only has a particular effect in a particular environment, and to say that a gene has a consistent effect in every environment is really only to say that it has a consistent effect in all the environments in which it has been studied to date. This has become ever more clear in studies of the genetics of behavior, as there has been increasing appreciation of environmental regulation of epigenetics, transcription factors, splicing factors, and so on. And this is most dramatically pertinent to humans, given the extraordinary range of environments—both natural and culturally constructed—in which we live.

    What does stack-ranking achieve as a long-term evolutionary pressure? It helps the company accumulate the people who are best at concealing their dips, no matter how the chill winds blow.

    Just what you want cultivate, a whole cadre of engineers specializing in meteorology.

    There was a different passage about genetics I was trying to find. A population will only retain multiple genetic phenotypes if each of those phenotypes is advantageous in some circumstance or environment. Any phenotype that dominates across the board, in nearly every circumstance, soon extinguishes the competition.

    That we have so many phenotypes indicates that human circumstance is extremely fluid.

  • Can you imagine what the Beta site dev team's reviews will be like?

    "Well, everyone hated it so much they threatened to leave the site. A few went off and set up alternatives, some organized a boycot, others just bitched about it in every single story. The entire project seems to be a complete disaster and everyone wants to keep the old site. On the plus side you managed to get a personal best 27 buzzwords per paragraph into the requirements spec, so well done and here's your bonus."

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday February 07, 2014 @03:45PM (#46189003)


    I hate the annual kabuki theater of the performance review, with it's empty and meaningless self-assessments and the usual empty criticism ladled on top to make sure the review is 'balanced' (and mostly to be just intimidating enough to dampen any expectation of a salary increase).

    The once a year part is annoying as well, since anything good you've done that wasn't last week has been pushed off the stack. It'd be much better to have more often candid discussions, whether they were regular or based around projects or project milestones where some good could come of them.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard