skip to main content

Grade on a Curve

There was something about school bells that I did not like.

First, the school bell itself. Our school was old and we had a clanging, irritating alarm that sounded the end of each class period. Although I loved school, there were many teachers that the bell could not sound soon enough.

And then there was the bell curve. For a student who did well in nearly all classes, this concept was ridiculous. To me it said the teacher did not teach the topic very well, was not able to develop a test based on what was taught, and whose ego would not allow them to accept everyone getting an A, or everyone failing.

To compensate, the teacher would superimpose a bell curve over all the test scores whereby a few would get A’s, a few would fail, and everyone else would be mathematically distributed in between. But that is just the student in me talking, I’m sure the teachers had a different opinion.

The reason I’m thinking of grading on the curve is because of some recent articles about treating employees the same way. This is not, however, about tests. It’s about performance appraisals.

These articles start with the idea that the workplace is a reflection of our world. The bell curve is supposedly also a reflection of the world, and so it is appropriate to impose that theoretical model onto our employees. We have a few stellar employees, a few slackers and undesirables, and the performance of the rest of our employees is scattered in between.

The HR department can then see how your companies current group of employees match with the rest of the world.

This concept is flawed for the same reason it was flawed in school. What is wrong with everyone getting an A? What is wrong with a company that is all stellar employees? Teachers should strive for all A’s and employers should strive for the best employees.

Although there are a host of topics to cover here, the idea of evaluating your employees on a bell curve simply promotes mediocrity.

The bell curve gives you an excuse to keep the poor performers on staff, to be happy with a few star performers, and to be satisfied with the rest. For me, this is the mentality I want my competition to have; let them keep all the poor performers and average workers.

We should not be willing to settle for a talent pool that is limited by the talent pool of the world.

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, upgrade. Someone comes along who has a skill you are weak in, make a place for them. If down the road you find the opportunity to let a poor performer go, let them go work for your competition. You will find once you generate a synergy of high performers, other high performers will want to work for you.

At that point, thankfully, you will no longer follow the bell curve.

God doesn’t follow the bell curve either. The basis of the bell curve is to compare yourself to the next classmate, co-worker, and teammate. God doesn’t care how you measure up to anyone else. He also doesn’t want you to care how you measure up to anyone else. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:12.

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

We are to focus on the gifts God has given us and to make the most of those gifts. Judging others and judging ourselves is the role of God and His grace.

For us to be the best company possible, we need to strive for the left end of the bell curve only.