The Bell Curve

Any person with experience or interest in performance management would have experience, interest & thoughts on this fantastic phenomenon called Bell Curve. I call it fantastic because a bell curve is the perfect analogy of a bitter sweet pill or the two faces of a coin or any other compelling contrasts that exist in life.

I have had the opportunity of drawing a bell curve multiple times. Usually, it’s a mixed bag of emotion, but enriching in terms of the experience – the journey more arduous than the result.

So in the younger days, I would question a Bell Curve, why does one need to be rated/ slated/ slotted. Why should two performers be compared & levelled up or down? Is it not cruel to rate two people who have different targets? And is it all objective? Does it serve the organization if we slot performers? And if the slotting is incorrect, then don’t we run the risk of losing someone who has been a good performer?

The answers to all questions lie in a simple statement – Greater Good Of All. I tend to associate this with spiritualism but guess that is how I can understand it.

Increasing competition (one word for all words, phrases, sentences to explain our professional lives) demands clear & robust segregation of performers into various categories. These categories form the basis for the allocation of all organizational resources – physical & intellectual. The ones who deserve the most get the maximum. Categorization also helps in ascertaining the critical workforce & planning their escalation & bench strength. The bottom performers realise (by design or structure) that they do not belong to this clan. Overall, the organization experiences a collaborative surge in its abilities. Visualise this as a batch of 40 pilgrims moving from one line to another in a temple queue.

n a recent education on bell curves, two focus points came to light – the context in which the curve would stand & its rigidity.

A perfect curve always stands true to the context of the times that it is being drawn in. The context indicates directions & these have to be used to shape up the curve & draw relevant comparisons. As we get deeper these comparisons make it easy for the Managers to plan their talent.

Rigidity – I’d like to quote an example someone used sometimes back to explain to me the philosophy of the bell curve. The Olympics Games is the most prestigious sporting event in the world. Top athletes from multiple countries compete for glory. These athletes are the best from each country & are the outcome of a rigorous selection & practice cum performance schedule. At the games, they are the best their countries could send.

Still, when the game event takes place, the result is a sequence of performances – 1st to Last. Best of the Best; Survival of The Fittest?? Take your pick.

There are many criticisms of this concept of marking performance. Making curves in a small workgroup may be looking not so intelligent. Individuals are not free of biases & sometimes they may creep in while making a curve. The rigidity beyond a point seems ridiculous. After all, how much of a difference would one number make – up or down (usually is up). It’s heartless, harsh & difficult to execute especially when the effort of a whole year is being assessed. Context may be understood simply as the business projection for the next year thus negating longevity.

These are my thoughts & my thoughts drawn from my interactions with folks who I call friends. They draw no inference/ references from/ with the organizations that I have been/ am associated with.  

Making The Customer Right!

I am not a sales person, but I’ve figured out what helps me build my business. Sharing some thoughts using a famous management mantra.

An important experience that I’ve gained ever since I started Monks In Happiness is, creating customer experiences and managing their expectations. Both are important elements of the age-old saying that “the customer is always right.” The first I heard of the saying was during my MBA. I didn’t agree with it as much then, as I don’t agree with it now. Literally at least. 

I believe that a customer needs to be educated so that they gather what their “being right” should feel like.

So what is this “right”? Based on my experiences both as a customer and a service provider, I feel “being right” is that feeling of fulfilment, of having received more than what one expected. Of course, expectations in themselves are an ecosystem of their own and need rationalisation for the “right” to be a good fit. Years back, all of 26 years old, wanting to purchase a car for me, I had a first-hand experience of becoming right. In those days, the internet wasn’t as offering as it is now and pre-buying research involved footwork. So I travelled from one showroom to another, till it became a trudge, manually collecting brochures and writing comparisons in a notebook. That entire Saturday is marked in memory as I met one salesperson after the other. They bragged about their cars and rattled off features. I would have a few questions and as soon as I went from the 4th to the 5th question, they would seemingly lose interest and start quizzing me on my abilities to make the purchase – how much did I earn, did I plan to take an EMI etc. I realised I spoke more than them and it was almost like I wanted to know more than what they wanted to tell me.   Each meeting was turning out to be a half baked experience and by the time I walked into the final meeting of the day, my enthusiasm had dampened. In that final meeting, the salesperson started by asking me what my requirements were, what other models I had seen and what my budget was. As I blurted out my ill-used knowledge, he cut me off and said, “Sir, all cars are good, it depends what your requirements are.” For the next 5 to 7 minutes he enlisted the strong facts about his competition and then came to talk about his own product. Eventually, I bought the car from him. 

The experience has stuck with me. It made me realise that sometimes more than the product it is the salesperson who is the experience. 

So over the years, I’ve consistently found merit in educating the customer to a position of them being right. If an interaction with a business leaves you enriched with the experience that the entity has thought about you, worked for you via their knowledge and processes and delivery mechanisms, you become right. Primarily about your choice to have engaged them.  

Circa present day, I operate in an ecosystem where creativity is the product. A portrait, a video presentation, a book of pictures, all need to be unique, sometimes rare, as well. Add to it, the complexity of my own artistic ambition of what can I do with the client. I used to find it tough to manage conversations where the customer would ask for something that I wasn’t sure of. I would nod in agreement, making my life hell and spoiling the customer’s final experience with my services. Till one day in the middle of a customer interaction which was turning irritating, I detailed my process and clarified what all could be done, if I were to do it. I told them of our background and history, our creative sensibilities, our process, people and what the spending of the revenue we earned would look like. I also spoke to them about our expectations from the client – the level of collaboration and input we needed to make something memorable for them.  I partly expected to lose the assignment; to my surprise, I didn’t, in fact, the relationship we created has sewed in multiple projects now. A few days later, in a second conversation with another customer, I modelled my conversation on an educational pitch and the colours started flying. Ever since I have tried to bring in this part of me that educates the customer in each interaction where it is needed and I always see trust building up consistently. 

I do want to lengthen this note to mention another experience I had as a customer recently. I started using a new age investing platform and was stuck at a certain point while making an investment. I called customer care and realised that the good human I connected with was a mature person, knowledgeable and experienced in managing stocks. Though my queries were of a very basic nature, the manner in which my queries were resolved gave me a sense that I was using a professional, learning-based and secure platform. I felt “right” about my decision to use the platform for investments.   

Relationships that we create in business interactions are achievements because some of them spill into our personal life. The experience of walking customers to a position where they become right works well here. It has, for me. Customers need to be told what they are buying, and whether they are buying from the right place. They need to be informed of the limits of the product or service and how the money they will part with, be used in the creation of the experience that they are about to get. Make it simple, educate them and help them succeed. The customer then trusts and invests in you. 

Then the customer is always right. 

The views mentioned in the article are personal. 

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