Management by fear

The big question on my mind is whether performance management through a bell curve, with the associated reward for the top 10% and the culling of the bottom 10%, can be compared to management by fear and a precursor to de-motivation. Or, as led to believe, are we achieving excellence through this process?

Management performance

Many years ago, I watched a TV documentary where two teams had to compete against each other in different activities. Team (A) was managed by two motivation Gurus. Team (B) was under the supervision of an army sergeant. As expected, team A won the first few events. As a consequence of the defeats, team B had to dig trenches and do chores as punishment.  Soon, and against all odds, team B started to win all the events, even though they were managed by fear and punishment. No matter how hard team A was getting pepped up they would still loose. Team B had become a winning machine whilst team A fell apart through squabbles and de-motivation.

At first glance, it is easy to conclude that management by fear and discipline works best. But what really made them win? Was it fear and discipline that did it, or simply teamwork and a great sense of camaraderie? Through the punishment, digging trenches and doing chores, the members of Team B started to bond together, respect each other and work for each other.

Team performance is linked to team bonding

All studies done on performance clearly indicate that teamwork with respect for each others differences are key to success. A team must want to work for each and want to perform together.

Managing performance through the bell curve

So, are we achieving this goal by managing people through a bell curve? The top 10 to 20% best achievers enjoy good pay rises and nice bonuses. The bottom10% go on performance management programs with culling as objective. The middle 70 to 80% are pretty much ignored.

In theory, it should be a great way to manage people as you’re providing the carrot and the stick.  But what does really happen? 80% of people are totally or somewhat de-motivated as they are either on PIP’s or ignored, or have friends on PIP’s, or are resentful as however hard they work they can never achieve the top 10%. Even the top performers are somewhat de-motivated by direct contact with the rest. 

Bell curve management alianates people and creates individualism

This system of performance management is clearly based on the individual. It is in fact the quintessential peak of individualism by setting everybody in competition against each other.  When you arrive first you get a bonus. Arrive last, you have to leave the pitch. This, in essence, is diametrically opposed to teamwork and cannot lead to motivation.

Sure there are exceptions to the rule and those companies have other great assets or historical advances which means they can still out perform others.  However, for the majority it means becoming a me-too company, with the same people management techniques as all the rest, the same consultants, the same strategies, the same boring results, and a huge un-motivated work force.

Avoid being a me-too management style company

Individualism is on the rise everywhere in western societies. People management through the bell curve is enhancing this phenomenon. So, drop it, and develop your own brand of motivational management in line with your own company’s culture. Carry the strugglers over the line, reward teams, bond people and make your employees want to work together. This does not mean you have to be weak, quite contrary; those abusing the system should be delt with directly. Differentiate yourself through your people management and reap the rewards.

Date created: 19/08/2015       Date modified: 02/09/2021
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