Top, Middle or Bottom: Where Is Your Time and Energy Best Spent?

By Allison Handy, Senior Vice President Commercial, Prism Hotels & Resorts

As sales leaders, we often find ourselves supporting the bottom — whether it’s bottom-performing hotels, sales teams, or salespeople. There is so much scrutiny around what they aren’t doing, what they are doing wrong, what needs to be fixed, and how to propel them forward. To think we can move the bottom to the top, though, may be futile.

For years, we’ve all heard that a successful leader is more focused on the top — what is going right, and how we can emulate that behavior and performance across the organization. Have you been successful in shifting your organization to apply more resources and talent toward the top performers? Maybe, maybe not?

Now, here’s a different spin. Maybe the way to really move the needle in an organization is by focusing on the middle. That’s where there may be the greatest opportunity to effect change.

The HSMAI Sales Advisory Board recently discussed this topic, based on an article published in Harvard Business Review. Here are some key soundbites provided during that conversation that may help you determine where and how to focus your energy when it comes to managing performers at all levels.

  • “We tend to focus on the thought that if someone’s bad at, let’s say, math, and you spend all this time on math, but they’re never going to get it, then why spend the time? Instead, maybe we focus on their strengths and give them a better sense of self-awareness. When someone’s hired and they’re just not getting it, maybe it’s time to put energy toward finding what they do well, and then move them to a place where they’ll be successful.”
  • “Over 20 years ago, [former GE chairman and CEO] Jack Welch wrote a book on winning, where he says you need to focus on the core 70% because that is where the ‘meat’ and the opportunity for growth and success are. Invest your time in training, motivation, engagement, coaching, etc., with those individuals. The bottom 10%, he said, they just need to go. Granted, Welch had a controversial leadership style, and this is not how we should operate today. We need to invest and give people the opportunity.”
  • “The issue is with the bottom 10%, we’ve got to go through those processes, and it is time consuming, but it is a necessary evil. With those top performers, you just take the roadblocks out of their way and let them go. Focusing on the middle portion of our teams and helping them grow is where I think we all know we need to spend more time on.”
  • “We have a development continuum where we identify the core competencies for the job, and then rate the person based on those competencies. It helps you focus and identify where you spend your time with each person. If you put a practice like this in place, it will help you be more efficient in dealing with each individual to figure out what they need to do to get better or if maybe they have to go to another position or leave the organization. Putting a little science to it helps a lot.”
  • “We’re rewriting all our job profiles because we found that they were more about the accounts the sellers handle and not about the sellers. We realized our sellers also had a mindset of, ‘Well, I’m a better seller if I have a bigger book of accounts,’ and that’s how our job profiles were written. But that doesn’t help me when I’m working with them on what it takes to get to the next level. It was hard to give them the feedback and hold them accountable when we didn’t have good job profiles that explained what we were asking of them.”
  • “We have monthly coaching across our leadership team, which is really good, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Coaching must be done deliberatively and tailored to the individual. You can’t ignore the bottom 10% because there may be people there who can move to the middle with the right coaching. Just like you can’t ignore the top performers because you could potentially lose them if you’re not coaching them. As a leader, you have to look at the whole spectrum and make decisions on who you coach and how you coach them.”

This robust discussion resulted in the advisory board seeing value in not just how much time is spent with the top, middle, and bottom performers, but how we spend the time being the key differentiator for success. The group found that there was disproportionate attention being placed on the bottom, but most, if not all board members, had programs in place to shift attention toward capitalizing on strengths and not just teaching skills.

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Categories: Sales
Insight Type: Articles