A little thought can make all the difference

Forced Ranking – Who’s the Best?

large_bell_curveI’ll start with my HR hat on – I do not like forced ranking or required distribution of employee ratings. If you don’t know what that means, well, you are fortunate. Basically, it is a system of taking large groups of employees and ranking them from first to worst. If I was in a half-full sort of mood, I would say from basic level to best level. Required distribution says that those on the high end get a high rating, and at the low end a “needs improvement” kind of rating.

While I agree in principle, the truth is that some groups on average are higher performers than others. And the least of the best might be pretty darn good. And if I assume that supervisors have the same distribution, well then I might just be getting ranked by a low end supervisor in the first place, and maybe ranking people is one of his low performing areas.

What if you put one hundred employees, who all had some knowledge of each others’ work, in a room with three big circles on the floor. The “average” circle has room for 50 employees to stand in, the “above average” circle has room for 25, and the “below average” circle can hold 25. Tell them to get into the right circle, discuss it among themselves, and be arranged correctly in two hours.

Chaos, right?

Now put the 8 people who mange those 100 in a room and ask them to arrange their people. More orderly? Maybe. More correct? Who knows.

But this is a safety blog, not an HR blog, so let’s turn the focus to safety. Imagine 3 operating plants with identical accident measures in terms of human impact. No fatalities, no lost time injuries, 3 cuts requiring sutures in each facility. No one suffered any permanent disability. One plant has very active safety committees, another has no committees but has 100% attendance at safety meetings, and the third has neither of those distinctions, but has also recorded 350 near miss incidents for the year, where the others recorded less than 100 each. Which plant manager is above average in safety management?

This year’s stats are not enough to go on. You would want to look at all kinds of factors to make that assessment. It was great that no one was killed or seriously injured, but which of these would be a suitable place for your son or daughter to work? None would be good enough from my standpoint. I want them to work in the one with above average safety performance year after year. Not in one period, but over many. These are all below average.

Do you measure safety by failure rates, or by the actions that lead to successful results?

Let’s be careful out there.

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