CHOW #36– Changing from the bell-curve system

Over the years, as a leader, you have implemented the bell-curve approach to performance management. When you started as a first time manager, you hated doing the year end ritual- because you were forced to bucket a  given quota in the top bracket, and some in the bottom bracket.

With passage of time, you have grown up the ranks to run your own business unit. Every year, when it’s time for the annual ritual, you have summoned your people managers – and communicated to them, the importance of the bell curve system. You have adapted yourself very well to the bell curve – that you now look upon managers who express difficulty in bucketing as people who are pussy-footed, unable to take hard decisions.

This year, your organization has made a call to move away from the bell-curve system – based on industry trends. You are apprehensive of this change, as you believe this is just a fad. As a business unit head, it’s your accountability to implement this organizational move. Your budget allocation process for both bonus and salary hike is fixed, pretty much like in the prior years.

What are the challenges that you have to confront within yourself?

What is your approach to communicating  this within your organization?

What are the issues, you see, when discussing this with your managers?

Suggested solution:

1. You are thinking this is just a fad. So, if that’s your starting point, it’s impossible for you to find value in trying to change from the bell curve system. So step out, assume that the new way of working is for the long haul – you will then be able to see the strengths and challenges of the new system.

2. The most difficult thing for all of us is to change. The more we believe in what we are doing, the more difficult it is to make the shift. So go back in time, when you changed from hating the bell curve to making it work. What did you do to overcome your own internal opposition to the bell curve system? It is now time to apply back what you learnt, but being wiser with experience – you need to do it even more quickly now.

3. As a business unit head, you represent the organization to your managers and the team. So it is very important that you show your willingness to embrace the new system – in letter and “in spirit”. If you cannot show your acceptance “in spirit”, the team will see through and the implementation will only head the wrong way for sure.

4. Since you have a perspective – that those who could not bucketize earlier were pussy footed/ incapable of making hard decision; it is now time for you to see how you are going to address this change of heart with the new system. Be candid with your managers. Tell them the challenge you went through in shifting your perspective. Bring out the value of the new.

5. Do not hesitate to discuss with your managers about the challenges that you see in the shift – seek their inputs on how to manage that together.

6. If you and your managers are steeped in the old way; stop comparing the old bell curve system with the new. Instead look at what is good in the new system. See how you can make the good work to the benefit of the team.

7. Finally, do not be apologetic about the budget. Delink the group budget allocation from individual performance evaluation.

8. Discuss the practicalities of implementation. What if some managers had set a very low bar for their employees and they have done better than that? Don’t try to negate the spirit of implementation on those employees now. There’s a lesson for the next time.

9. On the other hand, if some managers had set a very high bar, so that they make sure that too many people don’t qualify for the top ranking, how do you want to handle that empathetically? You and your managers need to agree on being fair to them as well!

10. The intent with which you plan to implement, if it is aligned with the “true” organizational objective – you and your managers will have the energy and the opportunity to make the best of the change.

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