Shipra Menon, a young management professional, working in one of the top companies of India was feeling very low . After a years’ back breaking “work from home” schedules where she did her best to meet organizational expectations, she found herself placed in one of the “tails” of the Gaussian curve., better known as the Bell curve.
Shipra ‘s annual appraisal process had just concluded -and her manager communicated to her that she had been rated a GA2 in the Bell curve. Her organization uses the Bell curve to differentiate the performance of the employees and accordingly the employees are rewarded with pay hikes and performance bonus basis the fitment in the Bell curve-the scale that her organization uses has a range from GA1 to GA5. GA1 & GA2--the bottom 10%,GA3-55% GA4-25% & GA5 the Top-10% ( GA stands for Goal Achievement .) Shipra did not have words to question or react -in fact for introverts like her, it normally took a bit of time to reflect and organize her thoughts -so before she could gather her thoughts and clarify her doubts -her appraisal had concluded, and she was left with a deep sense of unfairness. One aspect of the Feedback given to Shipra was that she did not come across as a “Team player” and this quality of hers was not great for collaborative work which was the need of the hour for her organization .When she looked back at the year gone by and she recollected her midyear appraisal, she could not think of any specific feedback that she needed to work on -in fact, on the contrary her manager had told her that she was on track with respect to most of her goals. The particular aspect regarding not being a “Team player” which impacted collaboration was a complete surprise to her!
This is a familiar story around this time of the year. Shipra is not alone in this. A poll ,conducted as a part of a work in progress research paper (which I am working on) investigating the perception of the fairness of Bell curve with respect to Introverts , was responded to by more than 450 plus First time Managers .The responses attested Shipra’s feelings-at some point in time in their short careers of 1-5 years, they had either found themselves in similar positions or had heard similar stories about some of their colleagues-stories about the perception that introverts generally found themselves at the receiving end. In fact, it is also evident from the responses, for introverts, such prejudices are not restricted to the performance appraisal process only -Growth conversations, Transfer considerations, Cross Functional Project nominations and the list goes on-the biases normally kick in for all such processes as well.
So, what is the issue here? On the face of it, it may be easy to blame the proverbial bell curve which many companies use to differentiate performance. While there may be certain cons associated with the Bell curve, it is pertinent to note that in spite of its drawbacks, as per a AON report , the bell curve continues to be trusted by more than 75% companies in the industry today .
As per Sudakshina, an HR leader with more than a decade’s experience of having worked in large multinational organizations , situations like the one Shipra found herself in is not a rarity. Having been a part of multiple such performance assessment discussions, Sudakshina recounts, “While organizations have their well-intentioned processes in place to differentiate performance -at times, if a difficult call is to be made to differentiate between 2 individuals for whom everything else is same the “socially connected” person is the one who gets the nod in his /her favour and the other person tends to lose out”.
But why is it that the so-called introverts always feel the heat. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet (a New York Times Best Seller, which has been translated into over thirty languages), gives an account of some of the significant challenges that introverts face in modern workplaces where the “extrovert ideal” is celebrated more often than not. As Cain points out, the roots perhaps can be traced to the mindset which gets shaped right from the school days leading up to colleges and finally culminating into work places-virtues such as public speaking, group work, brain storming, group presentations, thinking out loud, class participation etc. gain prominence with different life stages and virtues such as reading, listening, quiet reflection, deep thinking, deep work, focused attention etc normally are not given their dues. Ironically, some of the most successful leaders across different spectrums of life were close to the qualities that one generally identifies with introverts. The world would have been very different without the contribution of Einstein , Newton, the modern day Larry Page and even J K Rowling who creates magic with her words.
Sudakshina continues- “Workplaces at the end of the day are social spaces – and each individual basis their orientation brings different strengths to the table One needs to appreciate the same and the leaders should take specific actions to enable different views and thoughts-create the necessary ecosystem. Also, the role of the immediate manager becomes that much more important right from ensuring that goals are curated in a manner which will bring out the best for an individual to ensuring that the relevant stakeholders appreciate the contributions made by everyone. This would go a long way in ensuring that fairness in organizational processes like the performance management system. It will also be perceived accordingly”.
A very Senior HR leader who is the HR Head of a large conglomerate having business interests ranging from Pharma to FMCG products shared her perspective on this topic.
“In my experience, I have seen that companies that have strong Talent Management and governance mechanisms manage such Biases systematically -for example there are skip level calibration/moderation exercises which are conducted wherein apart from the immediate manager, the skip level managers and other senior managers are also present. This is done to ensure that everyone’s case is considered, and accordingly fair ratings are given. I have seen some of the Managers going back to the basics when subjective personality comparisons are brought in -these managers go back to the respective manager’s goal sheet deliverables and helps the group understand his team member’s contribution by citing relevant incidents and the associated impacts.. Essentially it boils down to discipline of the classical “reflective journal”.”
While Cain’s inquiry is restricted to the Western World, as per widely published research, most modern transnational organizations across multicultural set ups are dominated by the management philosophy of the Western world and as such many management practices from the West have found its place in the Indian set ups as well. Given that the boundaries of the workplaces continue to get blurred, the real challenge facing the organizations today is how to make workplaces a truly inclusive one- balancing and appreciating the Introvert-extrovert orientations of employees would go a long way in setting the stage for the same. Indeed, the Pandemic offers a wonderful opportunity for the organizations to use Technology for creating an equal space where conversations can take place for all and sundry in psychologically safe spaces so that Shipras of the world can prepare with due diligence and express themselves accordingly.
It is said that organizations are reflections of the times that we live in. As polarities continue to divide the world and hegemonic forces continue to spread its wings -perhaps there is no better time than the present one for the individual manager to stand up and create those little inclusive oases for their respective teams so that diverse orientations can truly flower under their aegis-thereby making the proverbial “Leadership Leap”.
- Cain, S ( 2012). Quiet. Penguin
- Nettle,D (2007) Personality: What makes you the way you are . Oxford University Press
- S,Peter ( 2004) “Overconfidence and the Big Five ,” Journal of Research in Personality 38, No 5:473-80
- Lucas,R & Diener,Ed (2000) “Cross-Cultural Evidence for the Fundamental Features of Extraversion,” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology .79 No 3:452-68
- Jung,C (1971) Psychological Types , Vol.6 The Collected Works of C.G. Jung .Princeton University Press
*Views are personal.