Stack Ranking - All You Need to Know


We are living in a competitive world nowadays. The companies try harder to achieve higher goals to ensure a better place in the market. Therefore, employees need to perform even better to keep revenues increasing. There are many ways to evaluate worker performance. However, one way that we will mainly talk about now is a method called “stack ranking”. Here is briefly what we will talk about from now on. 


We will start with the definition of the stack ranking. Then we will move on to some examples of companies that used stack ranking before. Afterwards, we will briefly explain what are the pros and cons of stack ranking and provide you an alternative to it. We will finish our article with a quick review. Now that you know the roadmap let’s get on with it.

What is Stack Ranking?

Stack ranking is a system to evaluate employees according to their performances. The sorting process is usually in ascending performance order. The main reason behind this sorting is really simple: to determine the high achievers, the mid-performers, and the loungers. 



Let’s say that our employees’ performances follow a normal distribution which you can see on the vitality curve above. The x-axis of the graph simply reveals the names of the team members. They are sorted according to the ascending performance values. We may see the high achievers on the right side of the graph while the underperformers will be on the left side. One company may say that the proportion of the high achievers is 10% on the right. The low performers may create the 10% area on the left. The remaining area belongs to the mid-performers. 


Although the percentages might change according to the company, the main logic is to see the value that the employees add to the corporation. In these terms, the managers might see which employee is more valuable to them and who is not.


Alright, now we have a basic understanding of what stack ranking is I suppose. Let’s see some examples of companies that have used stack ranking before and who are using it now. 

Stack Ranking Examples

A lot of companies have used or have been using stack ranking. Their aim is simply to award the ones that are boosting the company and to let the free-riders go. Thirty percent of the Fortune 500 companies have used this system for performance evaluation. Some examples of companies that have used stacked ranking before are Microsoft, Amazon, Uber, and Facebook. 


Amazon Stack Ranking


Amazon, the world’s most valuable company in 2019, is one of the companies that used stack ranking before. They ranked the employees against each other to evaluate their performances. Then, they took the underperformers on a 3-month "Performance Improvement Plan," to help them get back on track. 

However, this was not the only program that Amazon was conducting. In addition to stack ranking, Amazon also introduced a continuous feedback mechanism through the "Anytime Feedback Tool" which is a platform that provides the employees the opportunity to critique their co-workers. 

Amazon gave up using the stack ranking system in 2016. Teal Pennebaker, Amazon spoke-woman stated “We’re launching a new annual review process next year that is radically simplified and focuses on our employees’ strengths, not the absence of weaknesses,”


Facebook Stack Ranking


The biggest social media network Facebook is one of the companies that still uses the stack ranking for employee evaluation. However, the company states that it does not use stack ranking in the traditional sense. The main aim is to see the high performers within the company.

Molly Graham, a software engineer at the company describes the process as follows: “They call it the Performance Summary Cycle. There is a two-week period where employees solicit peer feedback (usually 3-5 peer reviews), write a self-assessment, and write a manager assessment. Managers then read all the peer feedback and the self-assessment and determine a "Performance Assessment" or rating of the employee's performance over the last six months as well as whether or not it is the right time to promote the employee.”


Microsoft Stack Ranking

Microsoft, founded by the world’s former richest person Bill Gates and Paul Allen is another company that used to utilize the system. The former CEO Steve Ballmer introduced the stack ranking system to Microsoft. However, the bell curve and the rankings were increasing competition among the team members. The company then decided to follow a program that would put more emphasis on collaboration among the members and on employee growth and development. So, like the example of Amazon, the company gave up using stack ranking in 2013 and since then the workers are evaluated according to their own goals rather than other employers’ performances.


Uber Stack Ranking

Uber, the company that was founded in 2009 and reached increasing fame in the world since its foundation, is also ranking the employees according to their performance. Managers of Uber rank their employees twice a year on a scale from one to five. While grade one is showing the employers with the lowest performance, five is for the highest performers. The underperformers with grades 1 or 2 should take performance improvement plans (“PIPs”) just like the former Amazon model.

Although the ones that defend the stack ranking model usually say that it builds strong teams by letting every member know where they stand, the opposition argues that it increases the competition within the team. Alright, now that we talked about what stack ranking is and reviewed examples, we may go on with the pros and cons of this system. 

Mastering the Art of Stack Ranking: 9 Key Steps for Success

In the quest for performance excellence, stack ranking, also known as forced ranking, can be a potent tool when applied effectively. Let's explore nine practical steps, along with a bonus point, to navigate the complexities of stack ranking with innovation and finesse.

1. Define Clear Criteria:

  • Clearly outline the criteria that will be used for ranking employees. This might include performance metrics, project contributions, and behavioral aspects. Transparency is key.

2. Align with Organizational Goals:

  • Ensure that the stack ranking aligns with the broader goals of the organization. This integration helps employees understand the bigger picture and encourages behaviors that contribute to overall success.

3. Regular Feedback Loops:

  • Implement a continuous feedback system. Regular check-ins allow employees to understand their progress, make necessary adjustments, and align their efforts with the expectations set by the stack ranking.

4. Encourage Peer Collaboration:

  • Foster a culture of collaboration and knowledge-sharing among team members. Stack ranking doesn't have to be a solo endeavor; encourage employees to support each other's growth.

5. Embrace Flexibility:

  • Recognize that circumstances may change, and objectives may evolve. Stack ranking should not be rigid; be open to adjusting criteria based on evolving business needs.

6. Training and Development Support:

  • Provide resources for professional development. Stack ranking shouldn't be solely about categorizing employees; it should be a catalyst for growth. Offer training programs to bridge skill gaps.

7. Leverage Technology:

  • Embrace innovative tools and technologies to streamline the stack ranking process. Digital platforms can facilitate data collection, analysis, and reporting, making the process more efficient and accurate.

8. Employee Involvement in Goal Setting:

  • Involve employees in setting their own goals. This participatory approach empowers individuals, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability in achieving objectives.

9. Recognize and Reward Progress:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate achievements at various levels. This could include recognizing top performers, as well as those who have shown significant improvement. Positive reinforcement fuels motivation.

Bonus Point: Holistic Well-being Integration

  • Holistic Harmony (HH): Beyond professional achievements, consider the holistic wellness of employees. Recognize and reward efforts that contribute to a positive workplace culture, such as promoting work-life balance, mental health initiatives, and community engagement.

In conclusion, applying stack ranking effectively requires a thoughtful and nuanced approach. By incorporating these nine key steps and embracing holistic well-being, organizations can leverage stack ranking as a powerful tool for fostering a culture of continuous improvement and driving collective success.

Advantages and Disadvantages of
Stack Ranking

First of all, the system helps you to see the performances of your employees. This may lead to some positive outcomes for the company. To better illustrate, you may observe the team members who are performing high and this may result in some incentives to keep up the good work. This also may help the regular performers to add more value to the company. Another good outcome of this system is you may see the ones who are underperforming in a short time frame and this may help the company to figure out an action plan.


So far, the system sounds like a dream, right? Well, it is not actually, it also has some downsides.  To begin with, it increases the competition in a company. Now, the team members are working harder either to not getting laid off or to achieve the incentives. But, well just a small percentage gets the privileges right? Then who would it be?

The second downside of the system is that it decreases the collaboration of the team members. It does not come as a shock that the teamwork is decreasing with the increased competition, right?  As a result, the performance of the workers is decreasing overall because of the disruptive competition.



Now, stack ranking doesn’t sound that cool, right? However, there are some other ways to see the performance of the company while not giving any place to the decreasing performance because of the competition. One great method for that is called “OKR”.

Alternatives to Stack Ranking

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results, which is a goal setting framework widely used by many companies. The goal of OKR is to define how to achieve objectives through tangible, specific and measurable actions.

Each member of the team will know what are their main goals. Also, they will know which objectives they need to accomplish towards reaching these. Not only many digital giants like Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Airbnb use OKR, but also other companies such as Walmart, Target, The Guardian and ING Bank use this goal setting framework.


Objectives are the steps to take to achieve the final goals. They should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Time-bound.  An example for objectives might be increasing the sales revenue by %6 in the second quarter of the year.

Key Results

Under each objective there should be 2-5 key result metrics. A key result is a sign of how much progress you have made to achieve the objective.It is often measured with a percentage 0 – 100%, however, it can also be measured with binary system 0 – 1.

Key results should be challenging and inspiring to the team. But they should also be measurable and qualitative.  Some good examples for key results might be as follows:

  • Increase online subscription by 10%
  • Reduce retention rate by 3%
  • Reach 10.000 user base in the first quarter


Benefits of OKR

OKR system brings different benefits with it for obtaining teams that are high-achievers. The main benefits of OKR is the transparency within the team members, the alignment of the team members, the increased focus of the members to achieve certain goals and the overall engagement of the employees.

benefits of okr

Transparency OKRs should be visible to everyone so that the people are aware of what others are working on.

Alignment – Similarly, OKR makes sure that all employees in the company align their work, move in the same direction and reach a common goal.

Focus OKR helps the employees focus on the tasks that have the most impact on the business. It helps the employees to focus their attention on the most important tasks for the time, letting them prioritize the tasks to bring the highest positive impact on the company.

Engagement – With a clear definition of the objectives and key results, it becomes clear for everyone what to focus on. As a result, you can communicate your goals to everyone in the company and receive deeper engagement.

Alright, now you have an alternative to stack ranking which is OKRs. As one can see, with the help of the OKRs  you can eliminate the disruptive sides of stack ranking such as competition and decrease in collaboration. We will end this definitive guide with a quick review of what we have seen so far.

To Sum Up

The stack ranking is a system that evaluates the employees according to their performances. The sorting is mainly in ascending performance order to see the low, mid and high performers. There are many companies that have used or still using the system such as Microsoft, Amazon, Uber and Facebook. 

Stack ranking brings some advantages and disadvantages with it. It helps you observe the team members that are performing well and poorly. This may result in some incentives for high performance and an action plan for keeping the low performance on track. On the other hand, The system increases the competition within the team members which causes a decrease in the collaboration level of the team members.

A great alternative for stack ranking would be OKRs which give no place to competition among the team members. You may evaluate each individual according to their objectives and how well they performed achieving those thanks to this system. So, with the Corvisio OKR you still have the good sides of keeping track of your employees while the team work is running on.