The Bell Curve – A recent HR disaster at Yahoo!

Yahoo CEO Marisssa Mayer has again hit on HR controversy with a new policy. Yahoo employees were up in arms about a new policy that forces managers to rank employees on a bell curve, then fire those at the low end.

As the company shrinks, the rigid distribution of the bell-curve forces managers to label a high performer as a mediocre. A high performer, unmotivated by such artificial demotion, behaves like a mediocre. Basically, many people have lost faith that ranking employees works, and some research suggests that employee performance doesn’t follow a bell curve at all. While a bit of pressure can motivate people, constantly pitting employees against one another is terrible for morale.

Forcing managers to rank their employees along a bell curve was popularized in the 1980s (thanks to Jack Welch), but lately it has fallen out of favor. The Institute of Corporate Productivity says the number of companies using either a forced ranking system or some softer facsimile is down significantly from previous years. Companies performing well were less likely to be using forced ranking systems than those that weren’t.

The continued appeal is largely that rankings appear to take the “human” out of human resources. Rigidly formatted evaluations generate a stockpile of crunchable information that can be used to run various types of systematic analyses.

How  to Survive a Bell Curve Performance Review
keeping your head down and doing a good job was enough these days to stay out of the firing zone, but it’s not. Our customers are the managers and co-workers who are filling out those “customer satisfaction surveys” the Bell Curve Performance Rating process provides them. To keep your job, you have to serve those customers in a way that ensures they are kind come review time.
If you want to keep your job, but here’s what to do:

1) Remember that you are being rated by humans who take their own needs into consideration when evaluating you.

While most employers won’t admit it, people are evaluated on their performance based on three things AND in this order:

  • Personality – how likable you are and easy to work with.
  • Aptitude – your ability to adapt to doing it their way.
  • Experience – your knowledge and skills used to execute the job.

This explains why the person who has less experience than you and continues to make mistakes — but is the life of the office — stays while you go.

Does this stink? Yes. Is it fair? No. But, welcome to the world of work – discrimination is our reality.

2) Be a specialist – just make sure your specialty makes life easier for those rating you.

The surest way to stay at the top of the curve is to solve a problem or alleviate a pain for your co-workers and managers. When you make their jobs/lives easier, they want to keep you around.

That really annoying customer who needs to be talked to daily – volunteer to do it. The work nobody wants to tackle, say “Bring it on!” When you do the tough stuff, people keep you around.

3) Go one step past what’s expected – and don’t make a big deal about it.

We like it even more if they find a way to go just a little bit beyond what was expected as a sign of attentiveness. Exceeding expectations without making it look like it was done to score points is the key.

Manager asks for a work in three days? Get it done in two. Co-worker needs help with a work and asks to get on your calendar? Drop what you are doing (if you can) and help them right away. These little gestures go a long way.

Never forget you’re a business-of-one … and the customer keeps you in business.

Credits: Bloomberg Businessweek, JobsAol.

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