Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Amazon: Rank and Yank and how to destroy a team

This week we have seen a lot of discussion arising from a New York Times article about the work practices at Amazon's corporate headquarters. I, like you, have no information about the truth or otherwise of the statements made in the article. Allegations that have been rebuffed by the CEO saying it didn't reflect the company he knew, or words to that effect. But he would say that wouldn't he, if only because the company and its policies do look different when you're the CEO rather than one of the worker bees. After all if you have a net worth of $49B then you have a totally different perspective than the rest of us on a whole range of things.

One of practices at Amazon that does not appear to be in dispute is their policy of forcing managers to annually rank their workers and to fire the lowest rated ones. The is called Rank them and then Yank them out of the company, shortened to Rank and Yank. They are not the only company that uses this approach to managing their "talent". Most consultancies have similar systems, always striving to have only "A team" workers in their companies, they call it Promote up or Manage out. They refuse to recognize that type 'A' personalities are frequently not good team players. In fact quite a few of them have wrecked more teams than improved them. Plus type 'A's' do not play well with each other. Too many ego's in a room is a recipe for poor cooperation and performance.

Rank and Yank most certainly doesn't work that well in multidisciplinary teams. If you have team of ten and each has an individual skill set then ranking their performance is highly subjective and firing your only UI developer will not help performance in the short run, given the time needed to recruit and train a replacement.

Team morale, which is a key factor in high performing groups, will also diminish, well respected workers getting fired does not encourage the others, instead it makes them anxious and less inclined to share key information. Where knowledge is not just power, but the key to survival, why would you share knowledge with someone that might result in them being ranked higher than you and thereby getting you sacked? If you're smart you don't.

Rank and Yank is just another glossy facade placed on the ugly reality of Social Darwinism, or survival of the fittest and the devil take the hindmost. There's a reason why only 63% of employees would recommend working there to a friend!

For a PM this sort of work environment is very challenging. You need to be leading a well motivated team to be successful and when that ideal is undermined by the company culture then you have an almost impossible task. You are bound to fail eventually and you will be fired! So either cut your losses or, better still, don't work for a Rank and Yank firm in the first place.