This downside of forced-rankings is supported by a pretty big pile of research we review in both The Knowing-Doing Gap and Hard Facts, Good Boss, Bad Boss. The upshot is that when people are put in a position where they are rewarded for treating their co-worker as their enemy, all sorts of dysfunctions follow. Forced rankings are probably OK when there is never reason to cooperate...
Good thoughts as usual.
My thoughts are that forced ranking inside a company are bad (the golf example, I have no problem with). Inside the company I want the people (even responsible for different territories) sharing information. We want to constantly improve. We want the truckers (or wherever else), wherever they are, sharing the things they are doing to make themselves more successful. Then we want to spread what works (pilot testing them first, of course).
The system impacts are likely large. The bottom 10% (discussion, in post, of GE firing the "bottom 10%" every year) is due how much to those people just getting lousy luck from the system. A lot of it is, that is my bet. I do agree you might discover some people just are not cut out for their current job. Believing in respect for people, your first reaction should be fire. First work with them, often that works, but sometimes not. Then figure out where they could be useful.
The same lucky system effects are another reason forced rankings are silly. If you insist on such a thing, just make it a lottery that everyone knows is a lottery (Dr. Deming suggested this - facetiously). In case anyone really is thinking of this it is a stupid idea. It is just less stupid than other forms of forced ranking.
Interestingly I here is post from 2006 where the new Microsoft HR chief state that forced ranking was eliminated due to widespread understanding of how destructive such a practice was.
In May, after barely a year as Microsoft’s human-resources chief, Lisa Brummel swept away “artifacts of the past,” starting with the widely disliked forced curve.
Related: Failed Practice: Forced Ranking (2005 post) - Performance Without Appraisal