The Bell-Shaped Curve

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Many of you have experienced performance reviews at your job.  While working for a very large, fortune 500 company, I experienced a yearly performance review.  It was explained to me during my first encounter that the information recorded would then be entered by grade; 5 being the highest and 1 the lowest, against other employees in the same or a similar job function and we would then be arranged by grade into a bell-shaped curve.  

If you picture a bell in your mind, you have a small section at the one end, a larger section in the middle and then finally a bottom section (see illustration).

There may be one or two 5’s in the lot….a handful of 4’s and more 3’s….followed by a few 2’s and perhaps even a 1.  Based upon those results, employees are given performance raises.  The difference may be negligible; particularly if the person classified as a 4 get .4 percent raise and another employee ranked a 2 gets a .2 percent raise.  Factor in, the 2 may be in a higher paygrade either because of years of service or opportunity at the time of the job creation.  This translates to the 2 actually receiving the same or even a larger raise than the 4 whose performance throughout the year should translate to a “reward”.  So, if the “2” was being sent a message via the ranking and merit increase, what is the message for the 4?

Now, skip ahead to the reorganization.  Someone who has performed at a 2 level may very well be selected in a layoff.  The 1’s and 2’s are now gone.  What does this mean?  Well, in plain English – it means that someone previously classified as a 3 or even a 4 is now going to be squeezed into a 2 slot simply to accommodate…..the bell shaped curve.  So, by my own calculations – a good performer (should they survive the reorganization wheel) will then fall victim to the bell shaped curve and work his/her way towards the bottom.

I believe this was designed to be a fair and helpful tool for organizations to classify and reward employees accordingly.  But does it?  What do you think?  Have your experiences been favorable?

Let me hear it.

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  1. Burton Martelli on November 16, 2020 at 1:30 am

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    • the Roaring Ellie on November 16, 2020 at 2:03 am

      Thank you so much for reading and providing your feedback. I hope you will come back and read again.