The Performance Bell Curve – A Myth?

Bell Curve

Years of being in HR have engraved the concept of the performance bell curve into my brain. “It’s not possible that everyone in your team is a superstar” to “You must force rank all your employees according to a normal distribution” are phrases coming out of most HR practitioners’ mouths at performance appraisal time, and for the longest time, I believed and preached it. It wasn’t until I was rated an Average Performer because we had a small team – which meant only one person was allowed to be rated a High Performer – that I realised how flawed the bell curve system was. This Mean HR Lady can be (and has been) called many things, but AVERAGE is pure blasphemy.

This article by HR consultant Josh Bersin “The Myth of the Bell Curve: Look for the Hyper Performers” hits the nail on the head explaining the limitations of the bell curve. We should instead, look at a Power Law distribution, where there are very few Hyper Performers, a large number of Average Performers and a small group of Lower Performers. It’s easy to spot Hyper Performers. These are the folks that make the difference between a successful project and one that tanks. They are the employees that you would consider bending rules and making exceptions for because they are that valuable to the business.

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Performance-Values Matrix.

Performance-Values Matrix

More than half of the stuff written on LinkedIn by aspiring “thought leaders” are frankly nonsensical ramblings, but “Your Company’s Culture is Who You Hire, Fire, & Promote – Part 1: The Performance-Values Matrix“, written by Dr. Cameron Sepah really makes a lot of sense, and he’s not even a HR practitioner! He is, however, a trained psychologist and executive coach, which could explain some of his spot-on insights.

“Your company’s employees practice the behaviors that are valued,
not the values you believe.”

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