The Bell Curve Beat Down
Me and the bell curve are going to tussle today. We are going to mix it up real good and you can bet’cher sweet ass it’s gong to be significant…statistically significant.
It’s that time of year again. The part of the annual work cycle that makes managers everywhere cry, cringe and procrastinate.
Yes, it’s performance review season. We are game ON.
I have been a manager for over a decade and I have written lots of these bad boys, but they never get any easier.
This year at the new company I have found an HR process that is the most confusing of any I’ve ever known. And that’s saying something.
First, they make us use an archaic file sharing system. The damn thing is so old the original software publisher doesn’t even support it anymore. Hell, they won’t even admit they ever owned it, it’s so clumsy.
Then there are the confusing and overblown review forms to be filled out. It takes about two hours per performance review to fill out every section in the twelve page document and do a decent job of providing good constructive feedback.
Then there are four levels of review. This goes all the way up to C-level people who, I kid you not, read every single review. (downsides of working for a small company, I suppose)
Then the obtuse guidance from HR on due dates and what has to be done by when.
All of that said, I am fine wading through the morass of bureaucratic argle-bargle, but there is one aspect that gives me pause.
Just like college exams, it turns out that our performance review ratings must adhere to a bell curve. There must be some small quantity of poor performers, some small batch of extraordinary performers, and a fat-in-the-middle quantity of medium performers.
So if you have a team of five and four knocked it out of the park this year…good luck with that. One can get a great review and the rest will get a middlin’ review.
That’s not fair. That’s not an actual evaluation of performance.
Yes, I know that my company isn’t the only place that does this, but it drives me absolutely bonkers.
And! It gets worse. All of my peers and I had a big pow-wow with our department head. We went through every employee’s performance and gave ratings, defended our ratings, argued our ratings and finally after many hours, we all arrived at our department wide bell curve.
Fine. I was told to go forth and write my reviews. So I did, with supporting evidence for the ratings I had agreed upon for my team.
But wait! There’s more!
Once reviews were written, my boss then took our ratings to her boss (a C-level) and they did this rating argument across the entire division level. And scores were again forced into a bell curve which means some ratings changed.
Based on this second meeting I was told to modify some of the reviews based on new ratings. So I did.
And now comes news that the boss’ boss has to take our ratings to her boss, the head of the whole ding-dang institution. Once again everything will get shoved into a bell curve and ratings may change again.
Oh. Hell. No.
Now I’m worked up. Now I’m on fire. Now I am officially Cheesed Off.
You’re making me revise performance reviews three times and you are comparing my team to all the other departments in the company who do totally different work? And not it’s not just that four of my five people don’t get their deserved awesome reviews, but all of our high performers across the department my succumb to bell curve’itis.
Did I mention that rating = how much salary increase is handed out?
And we wonder how we can better incentivize our employees. Har.
I really hate bell curves. They may have been my friend in college but they give me zero love now.
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