What after the bell curve?
Moving out of an established system is easier said than done. Many companies who have embarked upon the journey of making their people practices different have started with abolishing the bell curve. However, such a move in many cases may prove to be counter productive. The established processes are just not mere processes but reflects the culture and the mindset of the company. Those managers who always thought that they were completely responsible for their team appraisal and future growth, cannot suddenly move out of this model overnight. The HR teams that were all the time doing the bell curve based assessment suddenly find themselves in different roles. The change is more mental than process change. Letting go the authority and old way of doing things is always challenging. Normally such change finds resistance right from the top management to start with.
One person I was interviewing came from a company that claimed to have abolished the bell curve a couple of years back. I was interested to know how positively it has impacted the company. To my surprise, I figured out that on ground nothing has changed. It is still the same manager who has all the accountability and authority. The only change is the process of normalisation that typically keeps the number of exceptional and high performers within acceptable limits. The unwritten rule of keeping the bell curve intact was followed and the illusion of removing the bell curve had no impact on the morale of associates except getting positive press. I was surprised to see that most of the companies have just abolished the bell curve but have changed almost nothing underneath. This in turn is not helping them to get the desired results.
Another interesting input that I received on a similar journey was the fact that the senior management of companies that embark on the journey of abolishing the bell curve talk more ideal outcome than reality what they have actually achieved. Almost in all cases the reality is different. Figuring out high performers and high potential in absence of credible and neutral data can be very challenging and fraught with errors. Many companies are still figuring out the pitfalls and ways to come out of this model and transform into a far more realistic and better models. Unfortunately, there is no quick solution. It takes a lot of time and patience to come out with something that has better outcome and larger acceptability amongst the employees.
For a successful outcome before any organization should think of abolishing the bell curve should be the data collection on employees. Such data can be categorized into the following heads:
- Behavioral assessment data: Such data can be collected through assessments and tests to come out with a uniform assessment of the organization against the behavioral traits the associate must exhibit for successfully carrying out their jobs.
- Technical assessment data: This data can be collected through regular assessments and tests on the knowledge level of the technical skills and domain knowledge the associate processes in order to carry out their assigned function.
- Associate 360 Degree assessment: A neutral assessment on different parameters can be designed and performed for every associate in the company by all those who are working with the associate. This includes the managers, the team members and the peers. This assessment can also include questions on the project performance of the associates to get a better outcome.
- Another assessment should be done on the ability and performance of the associate to take work beyond the call of the assigned duty. This typically exhibits the leadership quality and the readiness of the associate to take larger roles in the organisation.
With these four assessments performed at regular intervals and data collected thereof can be analysed with different weightage to give a fairly neutral and accurate assessment of every associate. Once again, every model to assess the employee performance is only a step towards a better model.
Sears India’s CARE program has done just that. This program had an aim to pass on the responsibility of the performance assessment of every employee to the employee themselves. The data generated on them on the above four parameters would help them automatically understand where they stand in the organization and what can be done by them to improve their performance. This way, the organization has been able to establish a fairly robust model of assessment that is helping the employees to know themselves better and strive for better performance without much intervention. With the data collection becoming better every time, it is estimated that formal assessments can be eventually eliminated in favor of real-time performance indicators.
As opposed to the reactive model of bell curve, organizations must look at the need for a proactive model that would help employees know of the performance and improve them to benefit the organizations. We have to remember, employees are most valuable assets of any organization and smart organisations must look at reinventing the assessment models to utilise this asset to their best.