Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Ajay Maheshwari

Is the death knell of Bell-Curve appraisals a good sign?

Good Day to the wonderful SAP community!!

I would like to touch upon a topic, which none of us is technically connected with (Its a non-SAP topic), but each one of us is professionally connected with for sure – The so-called “Bell Curve” appraisal, which was once the feather in IT Industry’s cap, which promised to separate the Gentlemen from men (to identify the Star Performers, Average and Below Average Performers) and reward them accordingly. But, did it deliver its promise? Or Did it ever? Was it a boon or a curse for this Industry?

Well, no system is perfect and accurate. It depends on the people who run it. It might have been THE PERFECT one, when it was introduced, in comparison with what was prevalent then. The times have changed, cultures have evolved and the expectations of the present-day young generation have undergone a drastic transformation, necessitating a new method now.

Ever since the news of Accenture doing away with it broke out, scores of professionals have had a breather, some of them directly impacted by it and the others expecting that their employers may follow suit. But does it have to take so long for an Industry to realize that one of their most important process is doing more harm then good?  – And the Industry I am talking about here is the IT Industry, which claims to manage the best of talents in the market. This is the Industry where there is no major “asset” apart from the employees they hire and the Industry takes so long to realize that their process which directly impacts the “asset” morale is not yielding results!!

In no way, I am trying to say that the good performers should not be distinguished from the rest. They deserve to be, and also deserve to be rewarded more. But the problems started erupting when this so-called Bell Curve’s implementation became more radical than scientific, and more in Letter, than in Spirit.

Don’t agree with me? Here are a few facts!!

1) If you are manager, you HAVE TO identify the Top Performers, Average Performers, Below-Average Performers and some times Poor-Performers in your Group.

   – What if you are dealing with a group which is self-driven and responsible enough to deliver well the tasks assigned to them? In the drive to distinguish between the performers, you then tend to find even a smallest mistake (however negligible it might be) or tend to offer silly reasons which the employee finds it difficult to digest

2) Once you are identified as a Below-Average performer, it starts impacting your career-progression, variable pay and what not!

3) For a person rated as “Average” – Managers try to convince them by saying “You are a good resource. Its only that you are an average guy “relatively” in comparison with others”. But for the same reason, why does this relative ranking has to impact one’s growth, if I they are a good resource?  Why a “relative” low performer be asked to leave the organization, if he is otherwise a “Good Resource”?

4) The formation of the Peer-Group in itself is a debatable topic. Sometimes, a Roger Federer falls in the same group as Pete Sampras and sometimes the Federer gets to compete with a College player. So what plays a bigger role here – Luck or the Performance?

Now lets talk about the facts / information that feed into the process. Every process needs an Input, which the process processes into Output. The input that feeds into the process, should ideally be one’s performance. But, the reality is far away from being Ideal. Again, don’t agree with me? Lets peep into the reality a bit (Based on real life experiences of the author and others).

This is how the Bell Curve is being arrived at (using an un-written IF… THEN Logic)

1) If you got promotion this year or recently – You (most likely) get “Average Performer” tag.

           [If I am Promoted, should not I be sitting on the Top of the Bell?]

2) If you got an Onsite opportunity to travel to the client location – You (most likely) get “Average Performer” tag  [

          [Does this mean the companies send Average performers to the client location, while we tell them we are giving you THE BEST resource]

3) If you have been asking for a promotion for a while (and the manager agrees to it) – You will get “Good Performer” tag.

          [Needless to say, the next year, Rule 1 applies to you]

4) If you change the project before the appraisal cycle, you are an “Orphan”.. Such souls actually make a manager’s life easier.

          [The releasing manager gets one extra slot, while the welcoming manager still needs to see your performance, before he can rate you a “Good Performer”]

5) If you have joined the organization recently and this is your first appraisal – You are a manager’s delight.

6) If there was a slightest mistake you did in some task, your good chances are deferred for a year.

          [Makes me wonder, who is perfect not to commit a mistake? Cant we as managers take a holistic approach and weight the Good work Vs. Mistakes?]

7) If you left the organization before appraisal, but after spending >6 months, you will most likely be rated as a Below-Average Performer, so that your “Good” Slot can be made available to those who are serving the manager now

8) If you are a woman who took Maternity Leave during the appraisal cycle, you are an easy target for the managers

          [Here, I must acknowledge, some companies have laid down strong rules to be justified for such cases)


Today, the average time an IT consultant spends in any organization should be somewhere near 3 years or so. And on an-average, one changes a project every 18-24 months. Going by the above un-written IF..THEN logic,

1) If you get screwed in the year you join

2) If you get screwed because you left your previous project during the year

3) If you get screwed because you joined a new project

      – Then how do one grow in their career?

They say, its human psychology to behave the way one’s performance is measured. And this is how the process can corrupt you

1) Over-time working by consultants during the last few months of the appraisal cycle

2) Hyper-Active team leads doing extra-monitoring / micro- management to shoot one nasty mail on a smallest mistake you might have committed, and

3) Delivery Managers instructing the appraiser to give a good mid-year feedback, but a so-called “genuine” feedback at the end of the year

I have no doubts in saying that the Bell-Curve has done more harm than good. I don’t blame the process completely, but those who are the custodians of the process. And that means, no other process which might be introduced in the future would be in safe hands either!! I don’t want to sound pessimistic here, but the intention is to appeal to all the managers out there,

1) To be HONEST in applying the process

2) Give Constructive feedback all through the year and not just during the Appraisal (Its your right and an equal duty to do that)

3) To be HONEST while communicating the rating (rather than confusing the employee with silly reasons as to why he did not cut it)

4) Consider the GOOD WORK done by the employee for the organization and not just “My Project”

I hope this blog invokes the “Good Human Being” inside the reader!!


Ajay Maheshwari

Assigned Tags

      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Surya Varma
      Surya Varma

      Hi Ajay,

      Good one. It is a very sensitive topic which is rarely touched upon. I wish (short of ideas though) there were better ways for it rather than bell cure. But would it make a difference, especially if the mind set does not change?

      Now the ranting

      The draconian part of it, is guys with "Good Networking Skills", things like going out for a smoke or a drink with a manager would make you be better placed. If you turn down, you will be branded as lack of "Interpersonal Skills" in you year end appraisal....the ranting could go on and on...i wish you have placed this article in Coffee Corner so that we could just rant and rant... 😆

      Best Regards

      Surya Varma

      Author's profile photo Ajay Maheshwari SAP Trainer
      Ajay Maheshwari SAP Trainer
      Blog Post Author

      Well said Varma!

      I know this topic would not go down well with many, who are used to tweak the process to suit their personal motives. But that does not (and should not) deter one from speaking the truth!!


      Ajay M

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Thanks, very nicely said each and everything. This is an reality and no one will spared in this era.