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Government vs. private business

Posted: August 31, 2010 3:08 p.m.
Updated: September 1, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Most private companies which have a significant number of employees will agree that their abilities will run fairly close to the “bell curve” that college professors often used in the past to assign grades to their students. In that concept. about 10 percent of employees aren’t doing as well as they should and must either improve or be terminated; on the other end about the same percentage are the most outstanding workers in the company, those who are leaders and get the most promotions. Between those two extremes are people ranging from below average to average to above average. Some companies, of course -- those that pay exceptional wages to hire the best people, or those who attract bright individuals because of the kind of work they do -- differ. But that concept holds pretty true.

That’s why we were interested in the recent release of the neighboring state of North Carolina human resources system. Eighty-one percent -- more than four out of five -- were judged to be “outstanding or very good” in their employment reviews. The state personnel director, Linda Coleman, says such results are inflated, which is a pretty clear deduction, and she says supervisors and other employees are spending hundreds of thousands of hours writing up useless performance reviews.

We’d guess the Tar Heel state is similar to South Carolina, and that public employees in both states would mirror the bell curve, just as most private businesses do. We’ve commented before that in difficult financial times, governmental entities need to more closely monitor their personnel costs. That’s obviously true in North Carolina, and we’d guess also with the federal government and with the Palmetto State. The more closely government can operate like private business -- and that goal will never be completely achieved -- the better off taxpayers will be. Rating 80 percent of employees as outstanding isn’t the way to achieve that.

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