Organizational Excellence

People and Process Improvement

Archive for June 2011

Was Darwin Right?

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change. (Darwin)

Following is a real-world dilemma, once again using the bell curve. What would you do?

You’ve been tasked to research leadership development material for a rather “young” group of leaders in a startup operation. Based on comments and observation you are concerned with the varying levels of team leader buy-in to the training. Your original focus was “what is the best way to get everyone on board?” But the initial effects of the kool-aid have worn down and now you’re beginning to wonder “can we realistically expect everyone to happily hop on the bus and go to Disneyland with us?”

Framed in terms of variation and natural distribution, below is the bell curve of leader buy-in. The left tail is comprised of nay-sayers and no-wayers, while the right tail has visionaries and natural leaders. The largest population is the fence-sitters in the middle.


Would it be more effective to offer elective leadership development to any interested person, regardless of whether they are currently leaders? The “deadwood” on the left can choose to participate and improve, and we may convert some of them. But if they don’t want to or can’t get on the bus, we can’t drag them on board and expect good results.

I really hate to ask this…would we be better off developing from scratch those with potential and the right attitude, rather than attempting to shape and mold miscreants against their will?

This is a major shift for me, may lose some sleep. Your thoughts?


Written by Craig

June 29, 2011 at 6:52 pm

The Bell Curve and Performance Levels

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 As it so often does, a conversation on the Employee Engagement Network  has prompted a spinoff here. The topic on the EEN was recognition and engagement. A few factoids from the posting, based on Gallup data from research of 4mil US workers:

  • Number of workers estimated to be extremely negative about work or “actively disengaged”: 22 million
  • Cost in US dollars due lost productivity, workplace injuries, absences and fraud: 1 trillion
  • Rank of “feeling unappreciated” among reasons for leaving a job: 1

Check out the EEN thread.  For now I’m going to diverge…

 Discussion prompter Steven noted….it’s hard to imagine somebody being a top performer while being disengaged.  

Hard to imagine but not unheard of, if you consider engagement as a combination of high levels of both performance and job satisfaction. There is that rare endangered species that is compelled to excel in their performance regardless of their level of satisfaction. It may be possible to sustain high performance short-term without high satisfaction, but long term the inevitable outcome of “all give and no get” is burnout.

 So there is yet another indicator of the importance of the good fight the practitioners of engagement are embroiled in.

 EEN contributor Anita said: …Usually the high fliers get the rewards, the failures are mentored. and the good enough person is ignored!  Not good for morale.

 Anita’s statement led me to the following. Hopefully it won’t upset statistical purists too much if I borrow their bell curve of normal distribution attributed to variation that can be found in everything under the sun …. Including job performance.

 If you were to plot an organization’s level of job performance by individuals the variation would result in a roughly bell-shaped curve. The low performers and high performers would occupy opposite tail segments of the bell curve while the “good enoughs” are the Great Majority in the middle. For nothing more than critical mass, Anita’s ‘good enoughs’ in the middle are a dangerous segment to ignore.

 What if the “good enough” were made more of a focal point…if that population was positively impacted would not the entire distribution shift to a new, higher midpoint due to critical mass if nothing else? The high performers would be driven to ‘stay ahead of the pack’ while the tail end of the dog would either try to keep up the rear or fall off completely.

 Just thinkin’.

Written by Craig

June 29, 2011 at 6:45 pm