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.

team-tree-upOne 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Alok Kumar

Alok Kumar is Managing Partner of SRKay Consulting group, a private equity company, nurturing innovative ventures. Alok also serves on the board of ICCL (Indian Clearing Corporation Limited - A subsidiary of BSE- Bombay Stock Exchange) as an external advisor for technology and information security. Prior to this, Alok had been Managing Director of Sears IT & Management Services India Private Limited (SHI) since its inception in December 2009 and served in the same position till very recently. Having been in senior IT management positions in Fortune 500 companies, Alok has won several national and international awards. Alok is instrumental in planning and setting up SHI and thereafter growing it to a multi-locational thousand-plus people organization. Over the last five years, with his strategic vision, Alok helped SHI grow roots in India, develop and support technology applications and infrastructure across core mainframe, cutting edge e-Commerce and big data technologies. With his unique people-oriented transformational leadership style, Alok turned SHI into one of the most valued investments of Sears, garnering great ROIs, and creating value much beyond cost arbitrage. Under his tutelage, SHI has filed two patents and is recognized widely for its best practices in various areas, the latter, currently featured in Indian Institute of Management (IIM) case studies. SHI also became a CMMI Level 3, PCMM Level 3, and ISO 20000 certified organization. Alok is a widely acclaimed corporate leader in India today. He regularly participates and leads various forums as a keynote speaker and is an author of several books in different genres. Alok has several awards to his credit. He is particularly known in the industry for his people management skills and innovative ideas in improving the productivity of employees through unique people practices. He has been credited with the following industry awards: ¬ Emerging Leader of the Year award 2013 by IndiasGreatest.com ¬ Game Changer CEO of the Year 2013 (SHRM) ¬ CIO 100 - The Bold CIOs - 2008 (Reliance Infosolutions) ¬ CIO - Ones to Watch Award 2008 (Reliance Industries) ¬ Extended Manager Award - CIOL 2004 (Tata Teleservices) As an able leader of SHI, Alok got SHI recognized widely in the industry with the following several awards: ¬ CII Award for HR Best Practices in 2014 ¬ Global Excellence in Outsourcing Award - AIOP (Phoenix 2013) ¬ IT Innovation Award (Design & Engineering) - Computer Society of India 2012 ¬ Golden Company of the Year - Economic Times 2011-12 ¬ 7th Employer Branding Awards - World HRD Congress (Mumbai, India) 2013: • ‘Asia’s Best Employer’ Award • ‘Best HR Strategy’ in line with business • HR Leadership Award • Talent Management Award by Bloomberg TV India ¬ Employer Branding Awards - World HRD Congress (Singapore, Asia) 2013: • 7th rank in ‘Asia’s Best Employer’ award • Award for ‘Best HR Strategy’ in line with the business • HR Leadership Award Other recognitions: Alok had served on the distinguished panel of NASSCOM's GIC (Global In-house Centers) National Council members. The council members play a key role in major initiatives of the industry and include the torch bearers of IT industry as panel members. Books and Papers: Alok is an established author, with three books to his credit. Alok’s third and latest book, a novel, “The Spy from Unaula” is a 2015 publication. A handwriting analysis enthusiast, Alok collaborated with his wife Nandani on the book, “Handwriting Speaks” in 2006. “Value Sourcing – Future of IT Outsourcing” was co-authored with Keith Sherwell (currently CIO, Altice USA) and was released in 2013. Alok also researched and published two whitepapers: a. “Creating next generation captives” talks about the best practices that are helping generate higher value from the IT company captives.

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