Relics of Bygone Eras - The "Rank and Yank"


Related Fun Fact of the Week: Real Vaudeville shows would “Drop the Cow” on bad or overly long acts with "the hook", a shepherd's crook extended from offstage to pull away the performer. Oftentimes by the neck. Though he didn't originate it, the hook is forever associated with Howard "Sandman" Sims, a tap dancer who would use the hook on bad acts at the Apollo Theatre.

Talk about getting yanked! Ouch!

The pace of change is rapid. In fact, everywhere you turn the landscape of organizational performance is littered with relics of bygone eras.  Last week we talked about our first organizational relic from the past…”climbing the corporate ladder”.  As we discussed, climbing the corporate ladder is now being replaced by leveraging agile, individual and team performance networks that match unique talent to unique organization opportunity.

Our next left over symbol of a past performance bygone era is the use of “forced” or “bell curve” performance ranking systems, commonly referred to by the employees as  “rank and yank”.  This rating practice was championed by Jack Welch, CEO of GE and gained popularity with management throughout the 80’s. (Trust us, It was never popular in the employee population).

The practice of using a bell curve or a forced distribution to rank employees invariably kills morale, pits employees against each other creating unnecessary and unhealthy competition, and wastes thousands of hours with managers and HR professionals sitting in “collaboration meetings” fighting for their people.  Even though GE and many other high profile organizations have stop using this method, many organizations still subscribe to what, hopefully soon, will be a long forgotten, ineffective, organizational practice.

With the evolution going on in organizational performance and the every increasing need to attract, develop, and cultivate specialized talent and skills, it important to replace “rank and yank” with continuous performance pursuit conversations  and a “lead where you are” performance environment.  The onus of performance accountability shifts from a leader reviewing and force ranking performance, to both the leader and employee pursuing performance with the employee continually owning and proactively reviewing their ongoing performance activities and results each month.

Organizations that have replaced this performance management relic in favor of continuous performance pursuit have seen tremendous improvements in both employee engagement and performance results.

It is time to make “rank and yank” a historical footnote in our organizations and business schools.

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Cornerstone Learning is a performance and leadership consulting organization that has worked with clients all over the world. Our focus is working with individuals and organizations to create performance solutions that deliver top-tier results by inspiring, enabling, and developing employee-led, leader supported, and organization enabled performance. We are able to successfully deliver this through multiple products and services such as employee surveysonline training, performance assessments, and performance coaching. The goal at Cornerstone Learning is to assist our clients in enabling success by developing a dynamic and customized pathway to deliver role model organizational and personal performance.