The theory of a bell curve is that most people are average, with a small percent at the top being top performers and a small percent at the bottom being losers.
But when it comes to performance, the truth is the bell curve only exists if you believe it does.
Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson showed this 50 years ago. In their famous study, they gave students IQ tests to predict their ability to achieve and then shared the results with their teachers. As expected, students who scored the highest, had achieved the most at the end of the school year.
However, the IQ scores had actually been assigned randomly and had nothing to do with the students’ true potential. This became known as the “Pygmalion effect.”
There have been many studies over the years that support the conclusion that although formal intelligence might be distributed on a bell curve, the potential for achievement is not.
When managers believe a direct report has the potential for high performance, they become more invested in that individual. They are more attentive, more encouraging and provide opportunities and resources as needed. In other words, managers naturally become invested in developing their team.
It makes sense (cents) to develop your team.
Offering development opportunities is a key driver of employee engagement across the board. And according to a large global study, it is so important for millennials, you will quickly lose them unless you give them the opportunity to grow and learn.
It costs a lot less to develop your team than to hire externally. It’s estimated that finding, hiring and fully training a new employee usually costs about 1.5 to 3 times their salary.
Recent research shows that although external hires get paid about 20% more than internal employees who do the same job, they get lower marks in performance reviews during their first two years.
Development must be a key responsibility of every manager.
Managers need to understand that developing their team is as important as delivering results.
It’s not enough to simply send people off for some courses. Development is about what happens on the job every day.
Too many talented individuals get missed when managers are not paying attention to their people. Unless you have a mindset that it is important to develop your team, you will lose some of your best people before you even notice them.
A “sink or swim” attitude doesn’t work. Young people entering the workforce, no matter how good their education and no matter how bright, need to be supported in learning how to execute their job responsibilities, how to navigate the system and the informal practices embedded in the culture.
Those who are recently promoted or have been transferred to a new position need support in getting up to speed with their new responsibilities as well as how to work with their new team.
Don’t overlook the “sleepers,” people who are quietly doing their job unnoticed. There have been many cases where people who have been overlooked for years, when put in the right positions and with the right support, have provided the leadership that was exactly needed.
Toss out your assumptions about the bell curve. Have you really given everyone the opportunity and support they need to develop?
When managers understand that building capabilities is as important as delivering results, you won’t be forced to look outside for winners – you’ll have a ready pool of talent within.
can we apply this to our children!
Absolutely! Believe in their potential and support (not push) their development.
Great post, Jesse
One point I would add. Managers who like using the bell curve focus so much on the lower and middle points, they often forget about the superstars on their team, i.e., “they are doing fine, they don’t need my attention” which of course could not be further from the truth. So yes – I totally agree with you – lets toss our assumptions about the bell curve and keep Everyone in our focus.
Great point, Bill. The paradox is that when you focus on each person individually instead of comparing them to others, you maximize the potential of your team.
Such a good article and so nice to see this issue addressed. Managers have so much value to add in their guidance and example, but with the wrong person applying the bell curve some people suffer more than others or worse, never realize their potential.
Well said, Michelle. There is the potential for managers to add so much value, and also the potential for much needless harm.
I’ve always believed there needs to be two Considerations with respect to team members: (1) the selection should be based upon an investigation of their problem-solving skills (including developing the objective, creativity, and effective learning); and (2) an up-front inclusive development of team operating expectations (revisited with the new member and remaining members every time a new person is added; AND revisited regularly even when no member changes are made).
I hear and read about companies that dismiss employees who ‘don’t have the right experience’ any more, bringing in new employees that are expected to ‘hit the ground running’ (no training). Never understood this… I’d want team members comfortable and excited with new situations as outlined above. Honestly, other than things such as “how to make arrangements for travel” and such, why training??? Operating team ‘contract,’ yes!!!
Appreciate your insights, John. Hiring for the ability to learn (and then provide development opportunities) is the best way to ensure ongoing high performance in the midst of a VUCA world (where the playing field keep changing unpredictably).
i filled the PDR of my team member & recommended a promotion.The recommendation was not considered by management neither i was taken into confidence before final decision .
Can i challenge the Management ? or at least ask for legitimate reasons.
I’m so sorry to hear that, Gauhar. And sadly, this is not unusual. I am reluctant to advise you on what to do without knowing more about your company’s practices and your relationship with management. But it does seem reasonable to ask for the reasons. But your idea of legitimate and theirs might not be the same.