The Counsellor: Dreading the Bell Curve
Business leaders don't own performance ratings and employees are denied the right feedback
Vivek Paranjpe, Consultant & Strategic HR Advisor to Reliance Industries answers professional and ethical dilemmas faced by our readers at their workplace.
Question: I am a HR manager in a mid-size manufacturing company. Last year the HR team revamped the performance appraisal system to focus on a balanced scorecard system along with a normal curve. We got a lot of pushback from line managers to this change. They told their teams that, “HR has asked me to rank you on a normal curve, and hence we have to rank you in this manner while personally I feel you are great.” Even after a large communication process why don’t managers own the process? This year’s appraisal is again upon us and I dread facing the line managers. Please advise.
Answer: Bell curves or omega curves are introduced to ensure performance is differentiated and distributed in the company to create a culture of meritocracy. Ideally it should emerge in the natural course. Since it does not, the organization forces the omega curve onto the business leaders. Leaders blame HR for poor rating given to employees, calling it an “irrational omega forced by HR”. Business leaders do not own up the performance ratings, and the employees are denied the right feedback.
The reasons for the bell curves not emerging in natural course could be many:
• Leaders play a safe and want to be “goody goody” to remain popular.
• Leaders’ sense of insecurity of losing employees who are rated poor.
• Performance rating is used for salary reviews, other incentives, etc. A leader does not want his performance rating to be the reason for denial of growth of his people.
• Performance goals are not set right at the beginning of the year hence leaders find it difficult to face the employees at the time of the evaluation.
• Lack of role clarity, reporting lines, etc may be the cause for poor performance. If the leader has not addressed these issues he finds it difficult to face employees and give the poor rating even if it is warranted.
• Lack of regular reviews, feedback, and coaching, to help people succeed, results in leaders’ inability to face employees and give appropriate rating.
You have to fix these issues upfront. Forcing the bell curve will not help and push backs will continue to occur. Start with the top 10% leaders and managers, and cascade it to the middle and lower levels by making the system a part of organizational DNA.
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