Tips to Survive a Yahoo-Style Bell Curve Performance Review


In another controversial leadership move, sources indicate Yahoo's CEO, Marissa Mayer has implemented a bell curve performance rating system to identify and fire low-performing employees.

How it works: Employees and managers rate co-workers based on a set of criteria created by the company. Those that score lowest get fired.

Ironically, Microsoft just dumped this performance system because they found it was no longer effective. Executives stated it was having a negative impact on teamwork and collaboration.

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The other challenge with this performance system is it can create a competitive, every-employee-for-themselves mentality that can hurt the growth of the company's talent pool. Example: If you knew hiring people more talented than you would push you down the bell curve, would you hire them? And, how generous would you be with the rating of your peers in the event they weren't equally generous? In short, while it might help the company in the short-term to get rid of people who are dead-weight, keeping a system like this long-term can have some nasty effects.

That being said, I've read many of the Fortune 500 still use this employee evaluation strategy. According to a BusinessWeek article, IBM has mathematical models of its own employees with an aim to improve productivity and automate management. They even have a word for it:

Fungible is a word used to describe workers who are "virtually indistinguishable from others" in terms of the value of their contributions in the workplace. You see, IBM's study is enabling them to identify top performers from average ones, with the latter being fungible – and I would assume that translates into expendable as well. (Read more)

I'd also argue that a lot of medium and even small businesses use it too. Why? It's the easiest way for them to make room for new talent. Out with the old and in with the new.

Tips to Survive a Bell Curve Performance Review

If you want to keep your job (you may not like it), but here's what to do:

1) Remember that you are being rated by humans who take their own needs into consideration when evaluating you.

While most employers won't admit it, people are evaluated on their performance based on three things AND in this order:

  • Personality - how likable you are and easy to work with.

  • Aptitude - your ability to adapt to doing it their way.

  • Experience - your knowledge and skills used to execute the job.

This explains why the person who has less experience than you and continues to make mistakes -- but is the life of the office -- stays while you go.

Does this stink? Yes. Is it fair? No. But, welcome to the world of work - discrimination is our reality.

2) Be a specialist - just make sure your specialty makes life easier for those rating you.

The surest way to stay at the top of the curve is to solve a problem or alleviate a pain for your co-workers and managers. When you make their jobs/lives easier, they want to keep you around.

That really annoying customer who needs to be talked to daily - volunteer to do it. The project nobody wants to tackle, say "Bring it on!" When you do the tough stuff, people keep you around.

3) Go one step past what's expected - and don't make a big deal about it.

Nobody likes a brown-nose, but we do like it when people make sure a project is done well and on time. We like it even more if they find a way to go just a little bit beyond what was expected as a sign of attentiveness. Exceeding expectations without making it look like it was done to score points is the key.

Manager asks for a project in three days? Get it done in two. Co-worker needs help with a project and asks to get on your calendar? Drop what you are doing (if you can) and help them right away. These little gestures go a long way.

Never forget you're a business-of-one ... and the customer keeps you in business.

I wish I could tell you that keeping your head down and doing a good job was enough these days to stay out of the firing zone, but it's not. We are all businesses-of-one. Our customers are the managers and co-workers who are filling out those "customer satisfaction surveys" the Bell Curve Performance Rating process provides them. To keep your job, you have to serve those customers in a way that ensures they are kind come review time.

PS - Can I help you here on AOL? I write for AOL on a number of career subjects. Feel free to email me a topic or question you'd like answered at In the meantime, here's another article you might find helpful.

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