The Movable Middle

Many leaders are challenged with improving business performance by increasing their collective team members’ productivity. Where is the best place to focus? Intuition typically points to either the bottom or top performers. It makes sense, your bottom performers have the most room for improvement and your “Stars” are usually where we focus when we need to achieve more.

But what about most of the organization — the middle performers?  This group is oftentimes overlooked but make up the largest group of employees.  If you want to move the needle for your entire organization’s performance, focus your efforts on the middle. Getting the middle tier to optimize their performance is the best use of time and effort. 

The Power of The Middle

We usually insist that we never ask our software users to “do math.”  But this is an important exercise.  So, here we have an example – and we’ll do all the math for you.

Let’s say you manage 100 team members. 15%, the bottom performers, are each producing 10 units a week (they can be sales dollars, appointments set, superior customer service scores, whatever metric you measure). Your middle performers, 65% of your team, produce 20 units a week. Your top performers, 20% of your team, produce 35 productivity units a week. 

 Now let’s do the math:

  • Bottom performers produce 150 units/week
  • Middle performers produce 1,300 units/week
  • Top performers produce 700 units/week

What would happen if the team members in the middle increase their performance a mere 5%?  Compared to the top tier increasing 8% or the bottom group increasing by 10%.  A small increase in performance for your large middle group, results in a significant shift to the company’s bottom line.  

Let’s do the math again, assuming an improvement in performance for the organization by segment:

  • 10% increase for bottom level performers:  11 each per week – total increase for the company of 15 per week
  • 5% increase in mid-performers output:  21 each per week – total increase for the company of 65 per week
  • 8% increase in top level employees’ output:  36.75 per week – total increase for the company of 35 per week

By focusing on the large middle group – the company substantially increases weekly production that if only top or bottom performers step up. 

If we move the middle, we move the whole organization.

How to Move the Middle Now you know the importance of the middle group within your team you must identify who makes up the middle tier and understand that segment. Mivation breaks performance groupings down into Strugglers and Slugs, Strivers and Stars.

The Strivers tend to be different than the Stars and Strugglers in terms of drive, mastery, and motivation. What’s so different about individuals who comprise the middle compared to the top? Performance is an intricate blend of capability, motivation, and personality.

The first truth that needs to be recognized about Strivers is that they are not necessarily less intelligent than Stars. Perhaps Strivers has a personal aversion to their name being up in lights. They are like the proverbial wheel that never squeaks—and, consequently, gets no grease. They bring depth and stability to the companies they work for. They can be a quiet, yet powerful, comparison to perfection-obsessed high performers or an example to low performers headed in the wrong direction. Strivers may never garner the most revenue or the biggest clients, but they also will be less likely to blatantly fail. They intuitively stay consistent as the company evolves. And while managers often take this amazing ability for granted, it brings real value to organizations day after day. 

Sometimes Stars are found in the group of Strivers based on their motivators. A Star who values work life balance, for example, will say, “I’m willing to do outstanding work for 50 hours a week, but I’m not going to work 80 hours a week no matter how many promotions or how much money you dangle in front of me.” 

Skills and motivation – managing both at the same time 

What are the key activities your top performers are doing every day? For example, are they achieving 50 outbound calls daily or a 90% first call resolution while maintaining a talk time of under 2 minutes? Using the analytics tools available to you, determine exactly what makes high performers better than others. Then, you can replicate those behaviors in others by skill coaching. 

After training and acquiring new skills, many team members seek better terms and leave for competing companies. Employers often devote substantial resources to develop team members, only to never see a yield on that investment. The missing element is evaluating what motivates your team members. Finding out what motivates a team simply requires you to ASK! It could be anything from vacation time to a simple “great job” recognition in your next team meeting. But don’t make any assumptions; everyone is motivated a little bit differently and pulling all the motivational triggers is key.

Ignite Performance of The Middle with Leaderboard Legends 

Leaderboard Legends helps team members by being an assistant coach, providing a guide to what determines success in their role by affirming the activities and behaviors that matter most and most importantly, creates intrinsic motivation by communicating to team members how their behavior matters for the entire organization.

Competition Ideas:Form separate competitions for your Strugglers, Strivers and Stars. Properly matching competitors by skill level will get much more engagement from your Strivers.  If you are a Striver who regularly competes with the Stars, you rarely can shine.  Rather than having up to 65% of your team immediately checking out of a competition – they are going to win – set your Strivers up to do all they can to be the top of their segment.  A creative way to categorize these team groupings is by calling the teams out by hire date, Freshman vs Seniors or Fall 2018 Recruits vs. Spring 2019 Recruits.