We love reading the Sonar6 e-mail newsletter. They obviously have a great communications team and they get their message across in a fun and engaging way.

In their latest newsletter they make a point about the use of performance distribution curves in performance reviews. Their point is that forcing people to a curve is a mistake and we completely agree with that.People Performance Distribution

However, there is a very important place for performance distribution curves in performance management that we haven’t seen anyone talking about.

When people are advancing in their careers, taking on new challenges, and growing within themselves they will not always be masters of their domain. While they learn they work their way back to, and beyond, being a “3”.

And this is perfectly OK and expected. Organizations should expect to have a certain percentage of their population learning “on the job”, during which time they won’t excel in their current role. Organizations should plan to sustain part of the workforce under-performing as an investment in their future (repeated low scores for the same individual is a different story).

In fact, companies that expect many 1 and 2 raters (being the current under-performers) expect their managers to invest in their charges, expect that people grow in their roles. It is not about normalizing people and their performance, it is about identifying how many people we can support in their career advancement at any given point without compromising the company’s goals.

If your company has a year when “you just have better people, who perform better” your manager is letting you down. She’s not challenging the team, she’s not investing in the future, and just watch all of those “better people” drop their performance or leave over time because the personal challenge and fulfillment of working for your company has gone.

Performance distribution curves are an important management measurement tool. Publish them, communicate your expectations about what they mean behaviorally, and report on them. Don’t retrofit your performance ratings to match them – that’s missing the point entirely.