Grading To A Curve Can Go In The Bin

by | Mar 26, 2024 | Thought Piece Series | 0 comments

It really ticks me off, and here are some examples of why.

Like that general manager of a huge global company, having the best year of her career, getting the results and shifting the culture towards more collaboration, delivering on all projects despite the global pandemic, being met with “we’ve had to fit your to the curve, so we’ve assigned you partially meets”.

Or the strategic expert who’s doing everything they need to do to take care of the team and deliver results, getting a partially meets because “HR are really serious about us sticking to grading on the curve”.

Or that country manager getting a fully meets, even though they beat all targets, because, yep, “can’t have too many exceeds expectations so we’ve had to mark you down to fit the curve”.

Result = demotivated high performers.

Why do we revere the curve?

Are people just not able to give critical feedback? (well yes, that’s true). Are they ignoring underperformance and improvement points all year then saving them up for the annual review? (um,unfortunately also yes).

Or are we screwing with people’s career prospects and pay packages because we’re rigidly applying a statistical model of average performance spread over huge numbers of people, to a small team of 6?


It’s that second one. Misusing statistics.

Now I can’t force company’s to drop grading on the curve. That’s outside my zone of control, and trying to do that is my personal path to madness.

But giving leaders the skills of critical feedback; having those tough conversation about underperformance; motivating improvement etc now that I can do.

#RulesForKeepingMySanity – pick your battles.

And if you have the authority over whether you grade on a curve or not, please exercise your power and ditch it.

Because here’s the thing: if you are trying to build a high performing team, and insist on grading on a curve, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

Why would a person work hard in that team, knowing they will never get individually recognised? If you’ve got an all star team, they they all deserve their star.

And high performing teams by definition are full of stars.

We want them to be stars all year long, then at performance review time we stuff them into a curve.

It’s madness.

Think differently? Fight me on it 😀 Let’s have a healthy debate.

This is part of my Thought Piece Series, where I explore topics related to leadership and provide both answers and questions. My intention is to start meaningful conversations that help us move forward. Want to connect? Click here.

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