THE BEST AND THE REST: REVISITING THE NORM OF NORMALITY OF INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE

Authors


  • A previous version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meetings of the Academy of Management, San Antonio, Texas, August 2011. We thank Wayne L. Winston for his insightful comments regarding data analysis issues.

Herman Aguinis, Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, 1309 E. 10th Street, Suite 630D, Bloomington, IN 47405-1701; haguinis@indiana.edu.

Abstract

We revisit a long-held assumption in human resource management, organizational behavior, and industrial and organizational psychology that individual performance follows a Gaussian (normal) distribution. We conducted 5 studies involving 198 samples including 633,263 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and amateur and professional athletes. Results are remarkably consistent across industries, types of jobs, types of performance measures, and time frames and indicate that individual performance is not normally distributed—instead, it follows a Paretian (power law) distribution. Assuming normality of individual performance can lead to misspecified theories and misleading practices. Thus, our results have implications for all theories and applications that directly or indirectly address the performance of individual workers including performance measurement and management, utility analysis in preemployment testing and training and development, personnel selection, leadership, and the prediction of performance, among others.

Ancillary