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Moving from “Rank and Yank” to Collaborative Success

Posted on August 21, 2015

One of the more compelling spectacles in recent memory was the introduction of the teams in the 2001 Super Bowl.

The St. Louis Rams, as visitors, went first and they took the field one-by-one as their names was broadcast over the loudspeaker. The crowd roared whenever one of the stars were presented; particularly on the names of superstars Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, and Aeneas Williams.

The Patriots, on the other hand, broke with tradition and elected to take the field en masse, introduced simply as “The New England Patriots.” The team had no shortage of individual stars - among them Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Ty Law, and Lawyer Milloy - but none were singled out, just one group uniformed in red, white, and blue.

This introduction was a deliberate choice by Patriot coach Bill Belichick and it sent a powerful message of solidarity. The Patriots went on to win the game in dramatic fashion and capped what many called a “Cinderella” season. Their team-oriented approach also kicked off a dynasty that would earn four Super Bowl championships.

Initially rejected by the NFL, the introduction Belichick chose set a precedent and is now the customary way Super Bowl teams take the field.

When Internal Competition Works Against Organizational Goals

This story is worth remembering in light of controversial management practices that have been brought to light at some Fortune 500’s this week.

While healthy competition within an organization can allow employees to flourish and challenge themselves as well as others, the mindset of clawing to get ahead and willingness to tear down coworkers offers little support toward upward moving organizational goals.

Behaviors such as this are not surprising, however, in organizations that are still espousing the practice of “stack ranking” where employees are ranked according to data and their managers designate a certain percentage as stars, the majority are average, and a few are labelled under performers. At the end of the year, the under performers are “managed out” of the company. The practice is also known as “rank and yank.”

The idea underlying stack ranking is creating competition for survival among workers, which, in theory, will drive greater performance. This would be wonderful if it were true but the evidence indicates it instead creates a workplace where workers rise up by pushing others down and sabotaging co-workers is the way to get ahead.

Further, the selection of some over others creates a system of resentment and self-fulfilling prophecies. In such an environment, trust and collaboration between workers breaks down and the center cannot hold. Those labeled poor performers find it difficult to shake the label and conform to expectations no matter what they do. This experience is the reason Accenture, Ford, and Microsoft abandoned the practice. Microsoft famously championed the system for years until finding it yielded poor results.

As companies continue their quest to not only survive in an increasingly competitive market, but provide the type of working environment that employees want to be a part of, this mindset continues to shift. Adaptive brands are looking toward building supportive systems centered around open collaboration. Competition is a powerful force and instead of harnessing it for hostility, these organizations are channeling it for fulfilling organizational goals, focused on solving business challenges, not destroying co-workers in an effort to get ahead.

Smart companies recognize that every employee, despite relative rank, is capable of producing good suggestions and ideas that can save the company money, improve efficiency, and, sometimes, produce entirely new billion dollar product lines. Companies are strong when teammates trust one another, act in solidarity as a team, and take the field as the Patriots did in 2001.

If your team is ready to harness healthy competition and tackle future goals for growth and success, then it is time to give the Vocoli team a call at 888.919.5300.

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