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Simon Sinek: The Bell Curve is Despicable

Mar 12, 2014


Bestselling leadership author Simon Sinek is perhaps most well known for his TEDTalk on Start With Why, which is currently the 2nd most watched TEDTalk of all time. Sinek has a number of other excellent keynote presentations. However, there is one especially interesting interview that includes an impassioned and blunt assessment of the Bell Curve and the man who popularised it, Jack Welch.

The practice of forced or stack ranking is typically estimated to be in use by 20-30% of Fortune 500 companies. It’s no secret that many people hate the practice and think it has a long list of flaws, with notable analysis from Josh Bersin of Deloitte (The Myth of the Bell Curve), Edward E. Lawler of Booze & Company (The Folly of Forced Ranking), Loren Gary in Harvard Business (For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls), Julie Cook Ramirez in HR Executive (Rethinking the Review), and business professor Sam Culbert who wrote an entire book about how to replace it with something better.

Microsoft recently dropped forced rankings, which follows on the heels of Expedia and Adobe. According to Vanity Fair writer Kurt Eichenwald, "Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed — every one — cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees." Donna Morris, VP of HR for Adobe, who was responsible for abolishing the practice in her company, noted in an interview with HR Executive Online that employees had routinely expressed their disdain for the process to her, and had found it was creating internal competition, animosity towards management, and high levels of voluntary turnover. It was replaced by something called “The Check-In” in 2012 — an informal system of ongoing, real-time feedback. In the same year, a survey by consultancy firm Achievers found that 98% of 645 HR managers believed that yearly evaluations were not useful.

Forced ranking systems clearly have their problems, but it is unusual to hear such a high level of honesty on the topic from someone of Sinek’s public profile (see full interview below). 

Why Your Job May Be Killing You (Simon Sinek Interview)


“Jack Welch to this day says ‘people come first, people come first.’ Here’s a man who laid off 5-10% of his company every single year whose work did not directly contribute to the stock performance... How dare he say you have to put people first and then you destroy the lives of people simply to protect the numbers for one year…

If you work in a stressful job where you never feel safe because you may be laid off [then] you have underlying stress all the time so you have underlying levels of cortisol always in your veins… So you look at our world and diabetes is on the rise, cancer is on the rise, heart disease is on the rise, and it’s not just the partially hydrogenated oils we’re eating. It’s our jobs. They allow us to work in high stress, non-caring, people-are-disposable cultures and any CEO that promotes that kind of thing is literally a murder. It’s the culture of the job. I gave this talk recently to a room full of CEOs and I delivered the message just like that and there was a little bit of nervous laughter in the audience and I looked one guy who giggled in the eye and I said ‘I’m not joking. There’s no joke here. You are a murderer. You are creating conditions that kill.’ “

— Simon Sinek


(Watch the full 1-hour long interview: Why Your Job May Be Killing You. The section on Jack Welch starts at 14:40. Sinek is doing a casual interview with friends so note that it contains swearing.)

Topics: Leadership

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."


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