Monday, October 12, 2009

Grading on a Curve

A lot of teachers grade on a curve. You know, where only a certain number of A's are given to those at the top of the class, and likewise, those at the bottom of the class are given failing grades. Some companies handle talent management in the same way. Only a certain number of people are rated Outstanding/Excellent/Gold/Whatever-is-the-Top. Meanwhile, a certain number of people, maybe even an equal number to the top, have to be rated at the Needs Improvement/Unsatisfactory/Lead/Whatever-is-the-Bottom level.

GE used to, or still does, operate this way. The bottom 10% were told to improve or they would be gone. Like the joke about the guy putting on his sneakers when he and his buddy see a bear, they don't have to run at a certain high speed to be the bear; they just have to outrun the other ten-percenters and let the bear eat them.

On the other hand, Ken Blanchard (he of "One Minute Manager" fame) would say that our hiring practices and talent management practices should mean that everyone is an A-level player. Even recently, I heard a CEO espouse that we should strive to have a team of champions.

Neither system really works.

Yes, we should try to hire and develop the best people. However, not all are going to be A-level. Neither should we worry when people don't become A-level players. Not everyone is capable of being an A-level player. Nor do A-level players want only A-level players around.

Not everyone gets to the pro level, after being an amateur. Also, a lot of college/university first year students are discouraged now that they're in a higher league; everyone around them was in the top 20% of their high school class. Competition has increased, and some just aren't competitive by nature to survive. Does that mean they're not as good as they used to be? No, they still have the same intelligence and talent. They're still capable of A-level work in high school; they haven't changed. Only the system has changed.

Likewise, in a manufacturing setting, people are discouraged if they can't perform as capably as other people, especially those with more experience. They're still as capable, intelligent and skilled as they were before they entered your system. Only the system has changed.

Even if you want to grade on a curve, pay attention to those talented people at the bottom. They're not horrible. They just need to be in a different system. Maybe it's in still in your company. They're good. They maybe aren't competitive. Create a non-competitive system for them. Find the spot where they can shine.

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