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Evaluating Talent on a Bell Curve Has Always Been a Bad Idea
Evaluating talent on a bell curve seems to come in and out of fashion among organizations and leaders. This would be a good time to put a knife into the bell curve theory and to finally kill it. The overwhelming evidence suggests this is long overdue.
Great leaders continually evaluate talent and seek to put the best team on the field at all times. This means making the hard choice to push out some team members, replacing them with individuals with more skills and talent. This is a far cry from the presumption that there is always someone underperforming who needs to be replaced.
Two decades ago, big corporations like General Electric and Ford made history by terminating the bottom 10 percent of the workforce every year in the name of continuous improvement. None of those companies still believes in this approach. Why? A bell curve analysis presumes that whoever is in the bottom 10 percent performs at the low end of average. This is simply not true in many teams. Even if it were true, the consequences of eliminating the bottom set of team members are profound.
Team members become demotivated to do their best work when they know a bell curve evaluation is in use. Over time, they attempt to cover for weak performers and offer less candid feedback when asked about their colleagues. The climate of an organization that is always culling the herd is profoundly negative, fearful, and defensive. The drawbacks outweigh any benefits for sure.
If an organization truly believes that they should replace the bottom 10 percent of employees each year, perhaps they should look at their hiring and leadership practices. Sounds like continuous improvement through talent upgrading may be a smokescreen for lousy leadership.
Perhaps, we should eliminate the top 10 percent of leaders who support bell curve grading. That might work out better to improve organizational effectiveness.