Merge's Blog

Ranking employees on a bell curve is a stupid practice!

BellCurveAs regular readers of the blog know, I am a huge proponent of measuring performance as a way to achieve goals. In fact, I shared my own personal experience about this last year in Want to achieve your goals? The answer lies in performance measurement. And so I am always pleased when leaders in organizations measure and track performance as a way to motivate employees and celebrate successes. But there is one aspect of the performance review process (particularly in large organizations) that drives me absolutely nuts. It’s this requirement in many companies that managers and supervisors fit their employees into pre-set slots on a bell curve.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, bell curving has its roots in the educational system where the objective is to minimize or eliminate the influence of variation between different instructors of the same course, ensuring that the students in any given class are assessed relative to their peers. At the end, a bell curve ensures a balanced and normal distribution of academic results. The problem is that this simply does not make sense in a work environment. It basically forces a manager to say that a certain percentage of his/her employees are sub-par. Repeatedly. Every year.

If you trust that your managers and supervisors are good leaders (and if not, why did you put them in their roles?), then you have to trust that they will hire good people. Which means that there shouldn’t be a necessity to have people on the lower end of the curve. At best, bell curve performance assessments only encourage the hiring and retention of so-so (or worse) employees! And even more damaging, bell curve performance assessments are hugely demoralizing to employees. Imagine hiring brilliant people only to label them as unworthy because you are forced to place them on a bell curve! In my opinion, it’s time to get rid of this distasteful practice. Do you agree? Would love to hear your thoughts, pro or con.


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