How To Make Organizational Decisions Using Bell Curve

by | Oct 31, 2015 | Project Management

Bell Curve is a powerful model used in organizations to understand the progress of an individual and his contribution towards organizational change.

Any one of us who have spent few years in corporate life, must have faced the tyranny of the famous “Bell Curve”. We get promotions and raises based on where we lie in the performance curve. If we happen to be on the right side of the curve (may be 5 to 10%), we get the maximum raise.

If we happen to be in the middle, we will possibly get a raise which may not even cover price inflation.

I have even heard horrible practices about few extremely reputed and large organizations, that if one happens to be in the extremely left part of the curve, one will be asked to leave the organization.

Seems so scientific and logical, get rid of the worst performers and the average organizational performance will shoot-up.

Have we considered the negative aspects of this horrible practice?

When the organization adopts this bell curve approach, it pits one employee against another. Trust and co-operation are the immediate causalities. Employees hide information and knowledge. They do not co-operate with each other for organizational success. They think of their place in the curve which anyway determines their career progression and salary.

Is this really desirable?

The counter question will be should we really not encourage high performers with better pay and promotion?

Yes. We need to. But do it in a different manner. Judge performance of an employee based on value delivered to the organization and compensation paid, not against fellow employees. Judge the person from the contributions made by the employee to organizational goals.

Is it really feasible?

We have been doing this for close to last 8 years. Of course, we are small team and dynamics are controlled.

We wish we could maintain the practice even when we grow larger.

BTW – There is an interesting link with bell curve. I had heard about a story of a box of living crabs which were kept in an open container. When someone asked, why a lid was not there, the crab merchant said, these crabs will not allow any crab to go out of the container. Anytime, a crab tries to escape, other crabs will pull it down.

Possibly, these crabs were aware of the bell curve.

Satish Rajagopalan, CISA, ITIL Foundation
CEO & Founder at Spearhead EduOnline Pvt Ltd. (the company that owns and operates He holds a btech in Computer Science, an MBA in Strategy and Entrepreneurship and a post graduation in Finance. Read More.

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