IMD International

The influence of rankings

June 9, 2015

They are everywhere these days and every year there are more of them. A quick search pulls up more than 700 million results on the internet for rankings or similar classifications. They are real attention grabbers and they pack complex data into a couple of simple graphics. They evaluate the performance of countries, states, universities, companies and athletes. But this is far from the end of the list. Innovation, competitiveness, talent, sustainability, and even happiness – everything or almost everything is ranked nowadays. The tallest buildings in the world are ranked and so are the most widely spoken languages.

How can we rank the quality of these rankings? Close attention should be paid to a ranking's methodology and the number and quality of criteria used. Does the ranking use quantitative data or the results of an opinion survey? Many of the best ones use both and yield some of the most striking results.

Are rankings influential? The answer is yes. Since they compare and analyze a series of similar things in order to show strengths and weaknesses, they can highlight the performance of certain economic models, for example, or where competing companies or organizations stand against one another. They therefore become important tools in the context of elaborating strategies, and have the potential to influence brands and perceptions, including at country level.

In the last months, Switzerland displayed less good overall performance by international comparison and this showed in rankings. It appears that some Swiss leaders are voicing concerns about specific economic activities moving to cheaper locations following a surge in the value of the Swiss franc earlier this year. Foreign trade is slowing (exports of goods fell by 0.2 % in the first 2015 quarter) and so is the Swiss economy. 

But is the country really in decline? It's too early to tell. Switzerland has always been great at adapting to changing tides and still offers very attractive conditions for doing business.

Anne-France Borgeaud Pierazzi is R&D Services Manager at IMD.

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