Zen and the Art of Stack Ranking with Excel


Stack Ranking as the name implies is the process of stacking things or people up and applying a 1 to n rating to each.  Unlike a standard performance rating, a ranking implies that no two employees should have the same assigned rank and that when you’re finished, someone will be number one and someone will be on the bottom of the pile.

Stack Ranking the members of your team can be a loathsome task.  Especially when you consider the fact that many companies use this tool as a way to identify and carry out targeted reductions in force.  The issue that many managers face when it comes to stack ranking is that even if you have a solid team of super hero performers, someone will be on the bottom of the list.

Some have argued that there are many problems with the stack ranking system.  And I must admit the arguments against are valid.

Nevertheless, the stack ranking system, when used effectively can provide great insight into the performance of your team and can highlight important focus areas for enablement and development.  One key to ensuring that you are getting an accurate representation of your team and the rank each member assumes is by including the critical data elements by which you will evaluate them.  This means having some good reference material about what each team member’s job description or role entails.  This will be especially helpful when communicating results to employees as well as superiors.

Implementing a Ranking System

Any ranking system should have a core set of components that will enable you to record the scores of your team members as they relate to criteria or attributes.  I’ve chosen Microsoft Excel as the system I’ll use, but there are many systems available that will work.

Below, I have included an image with various highlighted sections.  The following section of this article will explain the various components and offer suggestions for implementing your own ranking system.

Excel Based Stack Ranking Tool

Core components

A – Success Criteria

Every job has a success profile or a set of criterion upon which success will be judged.  If this has not been communicated properly, you should exit this article here and get that done ASAP.  There is no point in attempting to apply a ranking when your team has no idea about what you consider critical success criteria.  For our implementation, we’re going to start with a two-tiered categorization of success criteria.  This just makes communicating the results easier.

To make things easier to communicate, I’ve enabled a two tiered categorization leveraging the ‘merge and center’ feature of Excel to consolidate the second tier of criteria under the first.

B – Criteria Weighting

I am a huge proponent of incorporating a method of expressing weights to each of the criteria upon which you will rank your staff.  Let’s face it, not every attribute is going to be of equal importance.   Is punctuality as important as follow-through or proactivity?  I won’t debate these here but I will argue that they are of differing levels of importance so any tool used to record your teams’ performance should give you the ability to reflect this.

18 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Stack Ranking with Excel

  1. Hello, Great article. I like the details you got into the explanation. I want to run a similar ranking with my team. where can I get the template? the one on the web is returning a 404

  2. Very good overview – not a real fan of Stack Ranking but at least this tool helps guide the process! I really appreciate your hard work in creating it!

    • Lori,

      Thanks! The tool was written out of a necessity to use Stack Ranking with my teams. I too, am not a fan but I feel that if we as managers are required to provide a ranked order for our team members, we should do so with supporting data.

      Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.


  3. This process is absolutely ridiculous when evaluating personnel who are not working in a team environment, but who report to several bosses in different departments in one firm. Like secretaries, for instance. When a department head must made decisions on who sucks and who is great, when that department head doesn’t work with all of the people being evaluated, then it is nothing more than a popularity contest, minus the popularity. Then, it is just names on a list; might as well be done alphabetically.

    For the people being stack ranked, this is like creating a crime and framing your employees, then punching them in the face before firing them.

    Shame on managers for employing such a system.

    • Shella,

      Thanks for your comments and trust that I agree. For me, it was mandatory that I use the process so rather than simply relying on gut instinct and producing a list of the names of my employees, I created a tool to show the critical success criteria that I would use to perform an evaluation. Showing the employees their ratings in this way takes a horrible situation like stack ranking and enables a good manager to have fruitful conversations about where employees are shining and where they need to concentrate to improve.

      Thanks again!

  4. Mike, I am going to use your Stack Ranking template for my small restaurant. Is there a way to have a running average of the period (per sheet) rankings?

  5. There is no file download link in the article? Can you post or email it?

    This is by far the best tool on the web that I’ve seen to help managers rank employees across multiple inputs/variables to gauge an employees total value to the company. Would love apply it leverage it for use on my team.

    • I had a problem on the site and to troubleshoot, I disabled the downloads plugin which prevented downloading the actual files… all set now. Apologies for the inconvenience.

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