Blog: Drive Performance by Moving the Middle

Successful sales organizations understand the importance of focusing on the middle of the pack, as opposed to the top or the bottom in relationship to optimizing performance.
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Successful sales organizations understand the importance of focusing on the middle of the pack, as opposed to the top or the bottom in relationship to optimizing performance.

The Sales Executive Council have done studies concluding that: “A 5 percent gain in the middle 60 percent of your sales performers can deliver over 91 percent greater sales than a 5 percent shift in your top 20 percent.”

This is a huge paradigm shift in the way people typically think about sales performance.

Now as someone who focuses on organization and workforce development, I’m wondering if the same holds true for businesses that are going through a cultural transformation. How does moving the middle impact organizational change?

Well, what we do know is that as human beings, we all have specific triggers and motivators that compel us to change our behaviors. Some people are more open to change and find the transition between new ways of doing things easier than others.

Then, there are people that hate change and fight against it at every turn. These are the people that would rather risk resistance and keep things the way they are than get on board with any new or transformational initiative. They will never agree to the “program of the month” and are more than willing to ride out the storm until a program fails and the storm passes.

These two groups typically represent your top performers and low performers. Top performers embrace change while low performers resist it.

Then, there’s the middle. This is the majority of an organization that fall somewhere in between the change embracers and the resistance fighters. This is the group that is cautious about any changes in the work culture, but not totally against something new and innovative, so long as the value proposition is clear and logical.

I would say that many of us fall into this middle category. I would also argue that if you can convince the middle that your change initiatives have merit, you’re much more likely to succeed in your transformational goal and objectives.

In sales, it’s easy to see if moving the middle really works. All you have to do is look at your monthly sales reports. However, in human performance, the metrics are not as clearly defined. Cultural and organizational change must come from the top and be socialized down into the organization through varying levels of management and into the general employee ranks.

If the organizational goals, objectives, and performance outcomes are not clearly defined up front, it will be impossible for transformation to happen as the initiative moves through the organization.

The reality is that all three change groups (top, middle, and bottom) will be present at every level in the organization. The recipe for success lies in a business’s ability to motivate the middle at every level of the company.

If they can do that, behaviors will change and cultural transformation can take place as people begin to internalize new ways of doing things as a part of their daily workflow.

A tall order, I know, but a fruitful one to be sure.

Josef Bastian is a Michigan-based author and consultant. He’s the author of the Nain Rouge trilogy.

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