Arlington, VA June 12, 2014
Many organizations use some variant of the Bell Curve for their evaluation processes. it is a well-tested instrument for diferentiating between exceptional, good, and poor employees. That is what is supposed to happen normally. However, that is not how the process always works. it can hurt otherwise good and loyal employees if the curve is not used objectively for evaluations.
When used neutrally, and described correctly, it is a useful tool. it does NOT have to designate good, exceptional; and poor-- only relative strengths between employees, based on some set of specific criteria describing desired outcomes.
However, that result is often not what happens. let me give you an example. An organization uses the '360 degree evaluation process'. That evaluation scheme is based on the Bell curve. It does what it is supposed to do, and, moreover, it uses a combination of personal views, peer views, and management views to makes its differentiation. When the system is used as it is intended, it does a good job of evaluating the 'complete person.'
However, when a responsible manager takes the information received, and 'adjusts' it based on effects not in the original scheme, harm results. I know of situations where the employees co-located with the management get better scores overall than those in outside efforts with clients. Since they are available for all the other little tasks the manager needs done, they sit in the manager's line of sight. In short, they get opportunities to excel that others do not.
Additionally, these evaluation schemes often have limitations. Everybody cannot be outstanding every time. Only a few can get bonuses and promotions. When management has their own ideas on who those employees should be, the final evaluation is often skewed in their direction.
It generally does not take too long to realize what is happening, and what its effect on employee morale and tenure will be. people understand that everyone cannot be exceptional, but most employees treasure the opportunity to show their skills, and receive some form of recognition, other than the normal couple of percentage point raises that everyone gets.
Be careful with the Bell curve. If you use it as it should be used, then you can spur increases in dedication and productivity. if it is misused, then turmoil, resentment, and personnel turnover all to often results.