Bell curve appraisal

Bell curve appraisal

What is the Bell curve method in HR?

In the Bell Curve Method, employees are categorized into different performance levels based on their achievements, skills, competencies, and other performance indicators. The population of employees is plotted on a bell curve, and they are typically divided into three to five categories, such as:

  1. Low Performers (Bottom 10-20%): Employees whose performance falls below the expectations.
  2. Average Performers (Middle 60-70%): Employees who meet the performance expectations but do not exceed them.
  3. High Performers (Top 10-20%): Employees who exceed performance expectations and contribute significantly to organizational goals.

Some organizations add more categories like 'Above Average' and 'Below Average' to make the distribution more nuanced.

Understand bell curve appraisal with an example


Imagine an IT company in India that has 100 software developers. At the end of the year, the HR department wants to evaluate their performance using the Bell Curve Appraisal method. They need to categorize these developers into three performance levels: Low, Average, and High Performers.


  • The company follows a strict 10-80-10 distribution, meaning:
  • 10% of employees will be categorized as Low Performers.
  • 80% of employees will be categorized as Average Performers.
  • 10% of employees will be categorized as High Performers.

Appraisal Process:

Performance Data Collection:

Throughout the year, managers have been providing feedback and tracking the performance of each developer based on their assigned projects and responsibilities.

Performance Evaluation:

After the year-end, managers sit down to evaluate each employee's performance against the predefined criteria and goals.

They assign a performance rating to each employee based on their assessment.

Bell Curve Distribution:

Once all performance ratings are assigned, HR compiles the data and plots it on a bell curve.

The curve is divided into the three categories: Low, Average, and High Performers.

As per the predetermined distribution, 10% of the developers will be categorized as Low Performers, 80% as Average Performers, and 10% asHigh Performers.


The categorization is done based on the position of each employee's rating on the bell curve.

The bottom 10% with the lowest ratings are categorized as Low Performers.

The middle 80% are categorized as Average Performers.

The top 10% with the highest ratings are categorized as High Performers.

Feedback and Rewards:

Employees are informed about their categorization.

High Performers may receive substantial salary increases, promotions, and recognition.

Average Performers may receive moderate salary hikes and development opportunities.

Low Performers may receive minimal salary increases and are encouraged to work on improvement plans.


In this example, using the Bell Curve Appraisal method, the company categorizes its 100 software developers as follows:

  • Low Performers: 10 employees (Bottom 10%)
  • Average Performers: 80 employees (Middle 80%)
  • High Performers: 10 employees (Top 10%

What are the drawbacks and criticisms on the bell curve method?

  1. Forced Ranking and Competition: The Bell Curve Method forces employees into predefined performance categories, often resulting in unhealthy competition among them. This can hinder collaboration and teamwork.
  2. Employee Morale: Knowing that a fixed percentage of employees will be labeled as low performers can demoralize the workforce. It may lead to frustration, stress, and a sense of unfairness among employees.
  3. Not Suitable for All Teams: In India, where teams can be highly specialized or small, the Bell Curve may not accurately reflect performance. Some teams may have all high performers, making it unfair to label anyone as a low performer.
  4. Inhibits Individual Growth: The rigid categorization may discourage employees from taking risks or trying new approaches, as it might affect their position on the curve.

How have we improved appraisal and what are the current methods?

Performance appraisal methods have evolved to become more flexible, employee-centric, and aligned with organizational goals. Here are some current methods used for performance appraisals in Indian organizations:

Continuous Feedback and Check-Ins

Regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees for continuous feedback and goal alignment.

Focus on real-time performance discussions rather than relying solely on annual appraisals.

360-Degree Feedback

Gathering feedback from peers, subordinates, and managers to provide a holistic view of an employee's performance.

Helps in identifying areas for improvement and enhancing self-awareness.

Goal-Based Performance Appraisals

Employees and managers collaboratively set and review specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals.

Performance is assessed based on the achievement of these goals.

Skill-Based Assessments

Evaluation based on specific competencies and skills relevant to the employee's role.

Allows for a more detailed and targeted assessment of an individual's strengths and weaknesses.

Behavioral Competency Assessment

Assessing employees based on behavioral traits and competencies such as leadership, teamwork, adaptability, and communication.

Provides insights into how an employee's behavior aligns with organizational values.

Management by Objectives (MBO)

A method where employees and managers jointly set objectives, and performance is evaluated based on the achievement of these objectives.

Often includes periodic reviews and adjustments to goals.

Peer Reviews

Colleagues provide input on an employee's performance, work ethics, and collaboration.

Offers a well-rounded view of an individual's contributions and team dynamics.


Employees are encouraged to self-assess their performance and align it with the organization's expectations.

Self-awareness and self-development are emphasized.

Rating Scales with Flexibility

Using rating scales, but allowing for flexibility in ratings, so that employees are not strictly bound to a forced distribution.

Behavioral Event Interviews (BEI)

Structured interviews where employees describe specific instances of their behavior and actions in various work situations.

Provides concrete examples for assessment.

Management by Exception

Managers primarily focus on employees who are performing exceptionally well or facing significant challenges, rather than all employees uniformly.

Allows for targeted development and recognition.

Digital Tools and Software

Utilizing performance management software and tools to streamline the appraisal process, facilitate data analysis, and track employee progress.

Cultural Fit Assessment

Evaluating an employee's alignment with the organizational culture and values.

Ensuring that employees not only meet job requirements but also contribute positively to the workplace environment.

Data Analytics and AI-Driven Assessments

Leveraging data analytics and artificial intelligence for data-driven insights into employee performance and potential.

Reducing biases associated with traditional methods.

Peer Recognition and Rewards Programs

Encouraging peer-to-peer recognition and rewards for outstanding contributions and teamwork.

Fosters a culture of appreciation and collaboration.

Indian organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of employee development, engagement, and well-being in addition to performance evaluations. Many are moving away from rigid, one-size-fits-all appraisal methods and adopting a combination of these approaches to better suit their unique organizational needs and foster a more dynamic and adaptive work culture.

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