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The Dreaded Bell Curve

Annual appraisals are fast approaching, so listen up. I never agreed with the bell curve system in annual appraisals.

If you are a fantastic manager or leader and you have a highly competent team that delivers results and drives the organisation, why can't they be all "high-performers"? If the team exceeded annual expectations, why cannot they all get "Exceed expectations"?

If we have team goals and KPIs, why do we have individual appraisals when individuals don't know what their individual contribution looks like? How do we measure individual performance with team goals?

I always had millions of questions around appraisal, which I truly believe - must be gotten rid of - but the fallacy around the bell curve hit me last year.

I received all appraisals, and as usual, I went through all of them one by one to ensure we don't get comments like "She should wear skirt as the management prefers that." :-(

When I looked at the team's overall ratings, 94% of the concierge team got "above expectations". My initial reaction was, no, that cannot be, so I went through the appraisal comments again. It all made sense. These guys exceeded expectations not only in delivering results but also in other areas of the competency framework. I called the Chief Concierge and asked for evidence of those results. He provided them all.

I sat across the table and looked at him, saying, "Just for you to know, it will be questioned," to which he replied "I am ready."

This real example of a team and a leader who puts all his effort into developing, guiding, coaching, nurturing, communicating, setting high expectations, and driving his team's performance showed me that you get bell curve results with mediocre managers and leaders.

High-performing leaders/managers will positively skew your bell curve.

So, if you aim for your team to fit into the bell curve, you are saying that you drive and value mediocrity.

But why do we do this? First of all, as usual, we don't think, and we swallow the bell curve pill.

Second of all, it is a cost-cutting exercise. It was revealed in leaked documents that both Microsoft and Amazon instructed their managers to deliberately lower performance ratings to save costs.

So folks, stop and think before heading into your annual appraisal process. Do we want a result that fits into the bell curve, or do we want to know how our leaders and managers perform? Because what your annual appraisal data shows is really the quality of their work.

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