Blog: COVID-19: Are you flattening your bell curve?

Life @ Work

COVID-19: Are you flattening your bell curve?

For us as HR leaders following the Indian fiscal year, COVID has hit us at a point of time when we are busy fine-tuning our performance bell curves, compensation review options, and goal setting for the new cycle.
COVID-19: Are you flattening your bell curve?

COVID has swept like a tsunami and it has been in many ways been a global leveler.

It has no malice or prejudice. It does not distinguish between the country, caste, creed, and religion. Nor does it differentiate based on education, grades, skill levels, and income levels. 

For us as HR leaders following the Indian fiscal year, COVID has hit us at a point of time when we are busy fine-tuning our performance bell curves, compensation review options, and goal setting for the new cycle.  

In the backdrop of COVID-19, we are posed with many fundamental dilemmas. We are all struggling to find the right balance between the head and the heart. 

With cost containment, we are juggling with multiple options be it pay-cuts, job cuts, bonus cuts. Not knowing which way to use the scissors: cut across the board or horizontally above a threshold grade or use a graded approach using the principle of progressive taxation. 

Our purpose and values are under test. The debate of people or business gets more intense in these challenging times. Like the global ongoing debate 

“Life v/s Livelihood “business leaders have to answer the question how much to balance between Business Survival v/s People 

Many corporates have taken the safe approach of deferral which is the wait & watch mode. Not knowing which way the COVID will swing. No decision seems the best decision. While we are taking time to pause and reflect, it is important to keep some of the ground realities in mind:

Since the lockdown over the last three weeks, our frontline & junior cadres are largely feeling underutilized, disconnected, and insecure. Most of them are not digitally connected with the office, feeling disengaged and distanced from their normal routines. 

They are locked inside their overcrowded homes 24X7 with their family in full quorum in the solitary room. They are extremely stressed. They have deep and valid concerns hovering over job security and pay cuts. They do not have anyone to whom they can air their fears and concerns. They do not have the benefit of the normal hallway & cafeteria conversations; speak up opportunities, step down meetings to air their views, frustrations, and feelings.

Is this the right time for driving home the performance culture?  We have to be mindful. Mindful that the performance ratings that we assign now will get delivered directly to the homes (in the literal sense)? What should be the response of the leaders? How much to differentiate on performance? Can we dilute the performance culture and make the increases flat and grade linked? Should we be less clinical or use the burning deck opportunity as an inflection point and do surgical attacks.  Would it be more appropriate to consider reducing the rating scale into a simple two or three categories?  Should we tighten the ratings (bell curve) or maintain status quo but be more conservative on the outcomes?  

On the annual bonus: Should we be mindful of the speed breakers ahead or continue to look into the rearview mirror. For those with April to March as the annual performance cycle, will we be guided by the contribution over 11 months or be colored by the impact of the 12th month and the challenging times ahead? Yes, the increases will certainly be far more constrained. How do we strike the right balance? Is this the time to make the performance conversations more developmental? 

Certainly, this is not the right time to initiate crucial performance conversations. if you have not done that in the past. Nor the best of times to be more stringent in the ratings and deliver tough messages.

The ratings and labeling this year will get etched deeper and stronger in the minds of the employees. Let me explain why I am saying so. During the normal times, the employees have a huge network of colleagues in the office; to whom they can vent out their frustrations and feelings. Also, the flutter of activities in the office will get everyone to quickly digest the ratings and immerse themselves to look ahead and move to the next page. It would rather make sense to keep the ratings simple and easy to administer. This is the time to flatten the bell curve, keep the differentiation to the minimum, and keep the performance conversations more developmental. This is the time for organizations to reach out to their employees with helplines, counseling support, make them feel more secure and provide opportunities to speak up and give vent to their pent up feelings.

The way organizations respond to the current situation will determine how well they are valued and differentiated in the minds of the employees for many years to follow.

[The views expressed above are entirely my own and do not reflect the practices of any organization.]


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Topics: Life @ Work, #GuestArticle, #COVID-19

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