The Gaussian curve

In the early stages of Ghana’s battle with the current coronavirus pandemic, I found myself having a conversation with a friend connected to the higher-ups in the Ghana health system. As I complained about what I felt was the poor leadership and lack of urgency shown by the top management especially with regards to providing PPEs for health workers, she rebutted with her own complaints about the failure of heads of health facilities to take initiative where central government fell short. 

To her, the bigger problem was the inability of mid-level managers to think creatively. She gave a few examples of managers that were working brilliantly and wondered why the rest were just refusing to do the same.  Like most things in life, in the world of work, the majority will go with the status quo i.e. keep doing the same things they know to do even when a new set of circumstances arise. Then you have the outliers, on one end messing up even the most mundane and on the other, coming up with brilliant solutions which in hindsight look quite obvious. People’s attitudes to work fall along with the normal distribution, the Gaussian curve. A very useful explainer for many observed phenomena in life including the attitudes of people to work.

It takes good management (managers) to recognize which category the people they manage to fall into and how to deal appropriately with them to achieve the aims of the organization they belong to. As such, a good manager does not presume people will work effectively at achieving an organization’s goals once they have not:

  1. Agreed thoroughly with them what they are expected to deliver
  2. Ensured both you and they are confident they have the skills and resources to be able to deliver and 
  3. Continuously provided constructive feedback on whether they are delivering the expected.1

It is a good manager who by doing the above, creates the environment that encourages efficiency, innovation and creativity in the middling majority, allows space for the brilliant outliers to flourish and aids those struggling to improve. These things will not happen by chance and require constant effort with those at the top of an organization’s management leading the way.