Bell Curve and the Appraisal Process

Imagine that a football team needs a manager/coach, someone who can motivate the players and help them deliver much more than they ever imagined they could. Now imagine that a seasoned HR manager somehow lands this job, someone who has been a big fan of bell curves and the other smarts we have grown so used to while managing teams at workplace.

Would this new manager/coach go about tracking each player as per their performance on a balanced scorecard (hell if Moneyball is to be believed, he could optimize the success by handpicking the players with the right kind of stats)?

Would he go to the players at the end of the season and say, well you managed the mid-field really well but given that the center-forward and the goal-keeper had an amazing season, I am afraid I would not be able to mark you in the top category? You know, I have a bell curve to fit.

Would he still use a bell curve when the team comes up with a record winning streak. Would he still internally want to build a bell curve for the individual performances or would he be happy to see that maybe these individuals are now coming together as a team.

Football team managementIn a team where every guy has a different role to play, do you really want to track performances and benchmark it against the best in the field (across all other teams) or would you want to benchmark them against different players within the same team?

Also can a team with top players in their own leagues be the most successful team? Not really. Time and again we have seen dream-teams fail, not because the players were not giving their A game, but because all the A games still added up to a B or even C somehow.

Corporate performance appraisal processes incorporate this by giving a certain weightage to the team or division or the company’s performance. This is expected to factor in company’s performance and temper the ratings accordingly. But does it motivate the employees to deliver as a cohesive team?

I do see the difference between a football team and a corporate and maybe the smaller size of the football team helps and you need a “process” for a corporate so that the whims and fancies and biases of the individuals are minimized when it comes to rewards. Its easier for managers and employees alike to aspire for a “score” – a number on the rating grid that helps them know how they have performed. Its easier to compare performances within the team basis the score. Easier to justify the quantum of raise that each one gets.

But we miss one simple point.

There are times when a lot of high performers would be concentrated in one team. Say a rockstar senior in the company is asked to launch a new business and he is allowed to hand-pick his team. If he gets some of the other rockstars and they have an awesome run, do you imagine him telling his team that he needs to fit in a bell curve?