Want to Improve the Performance of your Organization? Focus on the Middle

Want to Improve the Performance of your Organization? Focus on the Middle
by Skyline Group

Once you set your strategy and are clear about goals and objectives, everything else is about execution. Solid research shows that excellent execution of a mediocre strategy beats poor execution of the best strategy. Given that execution is key to success, we must look at where execution takes place...in the middle.

It’s middle management that is actually driving the productivity and work that is delivered in organizations. They are closer to the people and the work than senior management, who is typically focused on developing the strategy. It’s the middle managers that are translating the strategy into an executable plan and as well as communicating those plans to the individual contributors performing the work.

Whether you are looking at developing and coaching leaders in your organization or trying to determine who to invest in, your new target should be the middle, not just your top 10%. Your top 10% is already doing great. They need recognition and rewards, and of course it would be great if they could be even better through development opportunities.

Who is the middle and why focus on them? The middle has people right below the top 10% down to those performing or ranked in the 50% percentile. These are typically the people who do a good job, but are not your rock stars. They don’t get as much or any development support or leadership coaching. They are often subjected to training classes that they are not interested in attending and are expected to work harder and do more with less. What would happen if you actually invest in them? What would the increase in value to your company be if your middle performers execute 30% better?

According to Thomas Colligan, vice dean of Wharton, there is the 60/20/20 rule. When people come in the door [to a law firm or investment bank], 20% will make partner no matter what you do; 20% will not make partner no matter what you do, and 60% will make partner if you do the right things. What are the implications of this? No matter what, you will always have people who are the top and will naturally succeed because of their inherent gifts, those at the bottom who will not succeed, and more importantly those in the middle who if they try hard enough and had the right help would succeed. Not everyone is born a rock star, but certainly there are many who, with some extra help, can become stellar.

On a final note, “maximizing the middle” also refers to where to focus when it comes to competency and skill development. When you look at 360 feedback results, look at the competencies that fall below the top 10% to determine where to get the biggest ROI. If you can optimize for those skills, you will get higher performance quickly.