Here I am, close to retirement, a great believer in
the power of reason, spent 30 years bashing perfectly
good people in companies who were being "irrational".
However, some months back, when the possibility of Sonia
Gandhi becoming prime minister was real, I was feeling
terrible about it (glad it did not happen). That is
being irrational, people told me. The constitution allows
her to be the PM. But there is this little something
within me, which does not live by rationality and the
that little something keeps coming up all the time,
which makes me a bit of a corporate rebel. Take this
thing called the Bell Curve they threw at me all the
time about 'performance appraisal'. The theory says
that you have most employees in a kind of middle
class, as far as performance is concerned, there is
a bunching of the real bright guys at one end and the
bottom ten per cent at the other. As managers, we had
to rate our staff for performance, and the theory said
that when you rate your people, that is how the broad
picture must emerge. If you draw a graph, it
looks like a bell and, Hence, the terminology. The bottom
ten per cent gets low rewards or none at all.
I told the HR guys, first of all I don't think that
the appraisal system really judges people. It fudges
more than it judges. And with an imperfect system it
is not fair to demotivate a few people. It is also silly
because the organisation suffers the most as a consequence
of having demotivated people around.
worked for Jack Welch, they told me. Yes, I said, but
Jack Welch believed in the system. He actually sacked
the bottom ten per cent and kept raising the bar. You
guys don't sack; you just create demotivated guys out
of perfectly decent human beings who get totally befuddled
doing very routine jobs.
are negative, they told me, adding that everybody else
has accepted the system. So can we have your Bell Curve,
or else? Needed the job, so I did the Bell.
to salvage the situation I had to break other parts
of the constitution. I told the bottom ten per cent
that they should not feel hurt, as this is one of those
mass things where some unfortunate guys get caught up.
I did also give them a real feedback, which I
felt was the honest thing to do for the individual and
the organisation. I was not successful in making them
feel better about themselves they are simple
honest people who are sensitive, and in our culture,
insults (being rated poor performers), are a huge emotional
strain on the individual.
a team player, HR told me. Up yours I said. There
is this little something within me, which does not live
by the constitution.
what do people do when pushed against this HR wall?
I have seen the genius of Indians survive and devise
ways out for mutual benefit.
one of the eight companies I worked for, took the appraisal
system seriously (incidentally this company is a real
bright star in the country, today). All the others had
an equitable formula for the bottom ten per cent. Also
for the ten per cent bright guys.
formula was to have a rotating system for the bottom
ten per cent. Different guys out of a pool would be
put there each year. There was a similar system for
the bright pool and occasionally the middle class went
up or down. In this system there was generally equity.
have seldom seen 'performance' flow out of an appraisal
it has always been predetermined and then the
forms have been filled.
I write this, I need to clarify that the context I am
talking about is for the 'junior' management and below.
In my experience, the situation as you go higher, is
not much better though the fudging gets more sophisticated.
cry to the HR fraternity is, can we develop 'appraisal'
systems designed around the Indian ethos and not transplant
irrelevant Bells which have been devised for a totally
different cultural context, where also (I am told) it
does not work all that well?