Three Bell Curves: Decoding Corporate Culture

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement
How does a company improve in the areas of employee, work, and customer? Improvement in these areas first comes from viewing each as a bell curve-a distribution of results from "very poor" to "excellent."

Business culture pioneers Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy defined culture as "the way things are done around here." If you agree with that definition then you'll also probably agree that culture must be made up of three simple ingredients:employees, work, and customers.It is the interplay between these three ingredients from which a business' culture will define its customer experience and will emerge.

So, how does a company improve in the areas of employee, work, and customer? Well, not by doing anything that isn't evidence based. And not by doing anything that's really all that innovative. Improvement in these areas first comes from viewing each as a bell curve-a distribution of results from very poor to excellent.

The Employee Bell Curve

At the left side of the employee bell curve are the actively disengaged employees, in the middle are the passively engaged employees, and on the right are the actively engaged employees. The goal is to have as many employees as possible on the right side of the employee bell curve.

Sirota Survey Intelligence offers that there are mainly three things that contribute toward an employee's level of engagement: a sense of camaraderie, achievement, and equity. Equity, or fairness, Sirota says, is the most important of the three.

In survey after survey, Gallup finds that the % of employees in America who are not engaged is about 71%. Survey your own workforce, build a benchmark and then improve it using insights from Sirota to move your bell curve to the right.

The Work Bell Curve

Using lean principles, we know that the work performed in business can also be categorized. At the left side of the work bell curve is waste-work performed that customers aren't willing to pay for. At the middle of the work bell curve is work that customers would rather not pay for but must, usually for legal compliance reasons. At the right of the work bell curve is the work that provides value - work that customers are willing to pay for and if done well, maybe pay a little more for.

Lean has gone beyond the manufacturing plant and is now infiltrating knowledge work: hospitals, financial institutions, retail, etc. People across the country are discovering that 'lean thinking' helps cut waste, which customers would otherwise have to pay for. Lean is not about cutting staff. In fact, I was most impressed to hear the founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute ( point out that 'respect for people is key to creating value. They address the real issue of getting good ideas from people throughout the workforce if the idea leads to a loss of positions. Would you present a great idea to your boss if it meant the elimination of your job or department? Proper use and understanding of Lean will lead to a company being prepared to place displaced people into areas where value and or growth will be created.

Lean is habit forming. It must be learned by key people throughout your organization, practiced, and then spread throughout the rest of the company. Early larger gains are followed by years and years of incremental improvements, all of which add up to impacting cost, quality, or speed.

The Customer Bell Curve

The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth was written by Fredrick Reichheld in 2006. Since then, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) has continued to increase in acceptance and usage. Reichheld and Bain's Rob Markey recently expanded the focus from Net Promoter Score to the Net Promoter System as a natural progression from a measurement to the system in which the measurement (score) can be successfully used.

In a normal distribution, the far left side of a company's customer bell curve contains active 'detractors,' people who are actually doing the company harm by spreading bad news about it. In the middle, again considering a normal distribution, are customers who Reichheld refers to as passives. They consume but aren't overly impressed and would purchase from somewhere else without much prompting. To the far right of the customer bell curve are the active promoters- people who actively promote their experience with a company to people they care about.

Tabulation of NPS is simple. When asked 'on a scale of 0-10 how likely are you to recommend this company, product, service to someone you care about' the answer is 0 through 6, those customers are considered detractors. The 7's and 8's are passives, and the 9's and 10's are promoters.


An emergence is a novel, complex, and often immeasurable state resulting from the combination of two or more simple ingredients. Your culture and your customer experience are really an emergence of your employee, work, and customer bell curves. They do not function independently. Change one and you'll notice one or two of the others change.

Your goal is to think about getting each bell curve shifting to the right. Right? Right.

Download the entire white paper: Three Bell Curves - Decoding Corporate Culture at

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