Managing the Middle Ground

Middle performers often pose a significant challenge for managers. Here are four obstacles to managing middle performers and suggestions for overcoming them.

1. Time
“Managers are often pulled here and there by their own managers and don’t have enough time to spend with their team,” says Dr. Vince Racioppo, president of the Center for Expert Performance Inc. His solution: “When you spend time with your salespeople, focus your conversation. Spend your time growing and improving performance, training and educating these middle performers.”

“Be careful not to give up too quickly on middle performers because the tendency is to migrate toward your high performers,” warns Thomas Waterman, a sales manager at Lucent Technologies. “Look at every person and understand the actual development stage that they’re in. Some people are slow out of the block, but they’re solid and consistent. If you give them enough time, positive feedback and tools, they’ll get to a higher level of sales and stay there. If you abandon these people too soon, they’ll lose their enthusiasm and live up to your expectations of failure.”

2. Lack of Motivation
Some people don’t have a competitive nature. They lack the desire to be number one. “What a manager can do is help individuals connect their personal goals to what they need to do today to get there,” Racioppo advises. “An example is people who want to be promoted to management positions, but their performance is middle of the road. Make this a motivating point – these people have to raise their goals and perform consistently to be promoted. Middle performers have a lot of motivation, but often lack the strategies to make the motivation operational. That’s where managers can help.”

3. The Bottom Feeders
Some managers make the mistake of trying to salvage the bottom people. They spend too much time with them. “The truth is, all you can do to help these people is give them time and help if they’re new or help them find where to go,” says Waterman.

“Don’t put your time and energy into lesser performing people; they will either leave or discover that sales isn’t for them,” agrees Motorola’s Cindy Schiro. “Most people think that the higher performing salespeople are self-starters and don’t need to be managed. But they also need gratification and affirmation. You need to make sure they know that they are valued members of the team.”

4. Evaluations and Rewards
“Remember, as a manager, people need to know what is expected of them,” says Racioppo. “Let them know on a timely basis how they’re doing on every aspect of their performance. Then reward them.”

For more information on enhancing the performance of your middle performers, call Dr. Vince Racioppo at 847/831-3182, write 1510 Arbor Ave., Highland Park, IL 60035, email or visit and try the free sales audit online.