OK, I've been wrestling with something for a while. 

I manage a group of sales people.  Their sales results are very clearly measured from one day to the next.  As a High D, I hold myself to pretty high standards.  I am definitely not an "average" employee, so it becomes a challenge for me to accept "average" from my directs.  Here are my initial thoughts...

  • Average RESULTS are not equal to mediocre BEHAVIOR.
  • If the BEHAVIOR is mediocre, the RESULTS are never acceptable.

It's unreasonable to think everyone will be a top performer, yet we are very driven to put forth above-average results.  So, let me summarize with the question I've been struggling with...

When is it OK to accept average BEHAVIOR from a direct? 

I welcome your thoughts...


BJ_Marshall's picture
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If your area has performance metrics - and it sounds like you do - and your directs are hitting their numbers, then there is no problem.  "Average" and "acceptable" are not synonyms. Now whether your area's performance metrics are in line with what the organization demands is another story.

You can always ask for more. But if they're hitting their numbers, that's great!

- BJ

maestro's picture

BJ -

Thanks for the comments!  Your thought makes sense, and I do work for a company that has clear performance metrics.  However, the performance is divided into 20% segments based upon year-over-year growth.

Level 1 = Top 20%
Level 2 = 2nd 20%
Level 3 = 3rd 20%
Level 4 = 4th 20%
Level 5 = Bottom 20%

That being said, if I fall into the Level 3 category, I would be average, right?  Pay is based upon the Level at which you perform.   Hopefully, you can see why average is somewhat of a struggle to accept.  Any additional thoughts?


jhack's picture

Are there absolute measures of performance?  Or is everyone just ranked relative to the group as a whole?  

John Hack

RichRuh's picture
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Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  I think it's reasonable to accept average results in an employees weak area...  assuming that the weak area is not their primary job function.  In the example that you've given, it appears that this is the primary metric for their job.

In that case, I would coach them to improve, or coach them out (whether to another position in your company or out the door).  To do otherwise is to send a message to your team that "average" is OK.  Over time, you'll be left with an average team.  Average teams don't last too long in this world...



madmatt's picture

If average is enough to hit numbers and sustain the business and it doesn't require enourmous resouces to sustain, sure it's acceptable. 

But the work enviroment you set up should always be ready to capture and reinforce the above average or any small improvements. 


You say the pay is based on year-over-year growth? So you get placed on level depending on the change in performance from last year to this?


stephenbooth_uk's picture

 If you're just comparing within your team then, obviously, some of your people are going to be average or below, for that team.  Probably around half of them.  If you are comparing across multiple teams then it becomes a bit more meaningful.  Although by describing someone as average you're still saying "Better than about half of the whole population examined."

Even Jack Welch with his 3-5-2 model only advocates getting rid of the well below average.

I'd go with average is acceptable, so long as they're still hitting reasonable targets, but coach for high performance.



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Experience is how you avoid failure, failure is what gives you experience.

madmatt's picture

 <cite>Probably around half of them.</cite>

Ha! Nice one...

AManagerTool's picture

In any given population, it is IMPOSSIBLE for all measured quantities to be above average.  In other words, pushing your entire staff to outperform the average is a fantasy.  What happens when all of your staff perform above the average?........THE AVERAGE CHANGES AND THEY ARE ALL AVERAGE AGAIN.  Kinda silly to think you can hit this goal right?  You can't beat the math!

I see many managers make the mistake of thinking that everyone in their organization needs to perform at levels above the mean performance of the group.  As has already been pointed out, where we as managers need to focus attention upon is on calibrating that average level of performance to the organizational goals and objectives.  You should not need above average performance to meet your metrics.  If that is the case, either your metrics are set too high or your staff is seriously under performing.  In either case, ask why.


maestro's picture

JHACK & MADMATT: There truly isn't an absolute.  Performance is measured by year-over-year profitability percentage growth, compared to all the other groups.  So for example, if I grow my profitability by 4%, but the top 20% of the groups grow their profitability by 4.1% then I would not be eligible for the top tier. 

AMANAGERTOOL: With respect to YOUR comment, "...pushing your entire staff to outperform the average is a fantasy."  It seems to me that the argument is all dependent on how "average" is defined. 

To me, water seeks its own level, and average for one person may not be average for the next.  So, that being said, is it reasonable to ask that a person outperform their own results (i.e. that person's average) from last year?  Sure the baseline for average has been moved, but if a manager is coaching and developing talent in their directs, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that they be better at their job than what they were last year?

BTW, thanks to all of you for your great feedback!  It is good for me to hear your thoughts on this-- it is something that I feel a mediocre MANAGER wouldn't be concerned with.

I welcome your ongoing thoughts on this.


jhack's picture

So it's graded on a curve.  And you're graded by GROUP, not individually.  

This is a competitive situation, with performance clearly measured. 

Do you want to be in the top 20%?  If so, you need everyone on your team to be a top performer (More easily said than done, of course.) 

Your original question was:  When is it OK to accept average BEHAVIOR from a direct? 

The answer:  When their results are in the top 20%.  


Let's sidetrack for a moment.  You say:

  • Average RESULTS are not equal to mediocre BEHAVIOR.
  • If the BEHAVIOR is mediocre, the RESULTS are never acceptable.

It's not clear what you're getting at here.  "Mediocre" is a characterization, not a behavior.  "Making only 10 cold calls per day" is behavior.  "Not asking for a followup meeting" is behavior.  In sales, behavior is either effective at bringing about a sale, or it is not.  Rather than worrying about "mediocre" behavior, focus on effective behaviors  Effective sales behaviors would include "talking to the decision maker" and "documenting the timeline for a decision" and so forth (depending on what you're selling and how).    

John Hack

AManagerTool's picture

As has already been pointed out, where we as managers need to focus attention upon is on calibrating that average level of performance to the organizational goals and objectives. 


maestro's picture


Thanks for your feedback.  I think you and I are thinking alike on this one. 

You state: *It's not clear what you're getting at here.  "Mediocre" is a characterization, not a behavior.*

Agreed.  I am characterizing the behavior as being mediocre.  Let me try to illustrate to hopefully bring a little more clarification. 

Employee A: Sales numbers are above average for the year.  I've noticed his sales approach is weak.  Not selling assumptively.  Leaving opportunities on the table to sell more. There are gaps in his day where he could be seeing more people, but he allows "stuff" to get in the way (paperwork, etc.).  Sales numbers are being obtained in peaks and valleys of seeing people and by selling only a few products that he is comfortable with.  Customers are leaving without the entire package of products they are entitled to.  He is resistant to change, and primarily attempts to implement the coaching only when I am keeping him in close proximity.  I am working with him by using the feedback continuum recently discussed in a podcast.

Employee B: Sales numbers are average at best.  She embraces coaching by identifying and working on improving her gaps.  She stays focused during the day on things that will help her attain higher numbers in the long-term.  She is willing to do anything asked and often finds additional areas where she can help without being asked by management first.

This is an actual situation I am managing at the moment.  When I look at these two employees, I feel it the behavior should be what is focused on here as their manager-- not necessarily their numbers.  My analysis of these employees would be:

Employee A: Numbers are above average, behavior is mediocre = Mediocre Employee

Employee B: Numbers are average; behavior is exceptional = Above Average Employee

If we truly manage to behavior, it seems as though this is the only fair way to look at their performance.  Does this make sense to you?  I welcome your thoughts!


AManagerTool's picture

BLUF: I'd take a job at your competition if I was Employee A and you rated me "mediocre" under your rating system.

You don't manage TO behavior, you manage to results by managing behavior.  Results are the ends, behavior is the means.  You can't have a sliding rating scale for every individual employee based upon potential.  It's completely demoralizing to the people that you actually want to retain (the ones that make the numbers).

Why not have Employee A teach employee B on how to get his sales numbers with the same amount of effort as she expends and then raise the sales number expectations after B is performing at A's level? 

jpklein62's picture

Have you considered setting additional goals targeted to sales for particular products?  In other words, if one of the concerns with Employee A's performance is that he is not selling the entire suite of products, why not set specific targeted goals for those?


There are a set of company strategic goals he must meet, but there could also be more tactical goals which you can set, which drive towards the strategic goals.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Slotting these sales people into categories such as average and mediocre gets you?????  If I was your top performer and I read this thread, I would be looking for another job.  Totally disrespectful.

You manage to standard.  If the minimum standard is X, you manage to X and hope to do more.  It always makes me laugh when I see job postings that ask for people who exceed standards.  Why have a standard if that is not what you want your employees to hit?


Calling an employee who is more than hitting targets mediocre because he/she does not want to grow the way you want he/she to grow is ridiculous. 

I am guessing you get paid based on their performance.  Fire your high performing mediocre employee and watch your paycheck.

Keep your average employee who loves your coaching but doesn't improve and watch your paycheck.


Also, it is unreasonable to expect an employee to grow linearly every quarter or year.  Would it be nice and the ideal, yes.  Is it reasonable?  Nope. There are too many factors, including the overall economy, your company's offerings, the competition, product life cycle, personal life and a manager who tries to get you to focus on the wrong things.




US41's picture

Who came up with these rules? Trying to put rules and boxes around people never works.


  • Average RESULTS are not equal to mediocre BEHAVIOR.
  • If the BEHAVIOR is mediocre, the RESULTS are never acceptable.


Behavior is just behavior. It is either effective or not. Results are measured outputs held to a metric. Results are unacceptable, adequate, or beyond expectations.

I think you need to separate the concept of tiered performance rewards from using the tiers as a label for people in general. I know some excellent salesmen who get average results - because they limit their work load due to wanting more family time. I know plenty of bad salesmen who get superior results... for a while. Then, after they leave, it is discovered they were "up to something."

I recommend you build a wall in your mind between the results you get and your classifications of people as good or bad. People are just people. Results are results. Behavior is behavior. No need to say, "US41 is awesome and *RNTT is average because he sold more last year." US41 is more complex than merely his sales scores. So is *RNTT.

Dial back your high D, or you risk finding yourself wearing a black cape and a breath mask with the bodies of dead admirals lying on the floor all about you and still no sign of those darned plans of your Death Star to be found.



AManagerTool's picture

"I find your lack of faith...disturbing"


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

You're getting good advice here, even when at times it becomes a little more heat and a little less light... ;-)


maestro's picture

Wow!  Thank you (I think) for all the advice.  Now that my top performers have quit, I'm wearing a black cape, and my paycheck has dwindled to nothing, and I'm lying on the floor gasping for air after my fierce battle with the overlords of the "thought-to-be-friendly" force from the planet MT!

Couple of quick things in signing off:

asteriskrntt1: I'm certainly not trying to be disrespectful to my employees.  I wouldn't have asked all of you for your thoughts if that were my intention.  I am paid based off the profitability of my entire group, by percentage growth, year-over-year, compared to other groups in the company (see details above in the posting); I'm not paid based off the production of any one individual in my group.  It is the overall profitability that must increase each year, with the same group of people (assuming there is no turnover).  This creates a real incentive to develop people to the next level. 

AManagerTool:  *You don't manage TO behavior, you manage to results by managing behavior.*  Excellent point.  Well taken.

Thanks to all of you for your comments, I do appreciate the suggestions!  Starting Monday (on vacation at the moment), I'll be busy working diligently to measure behavior by results, not results by behavior.



Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

We look forward to hearing about your results.  Or behavior.  Or both.

asteriskrntt1's picture

This is likely my last posting on here.


Your focus has been on your directs.  I will suggest, as harsh as this might be, that if you are coaching and giving feedback continuously, and the person is not responding, you need to do things differently or just accept that they are immune to your charms.  Otherwise, as per your parlance, you are mediocre as a manager.

The same goes for your direct who loves your coaching/feedback and yet does not increase his/her numbers.  By your parlance, nothing is changing so what does that make you? 

Remember, behaviour goes both ways.  Good luck in your challenges.  I suspect you will find a way to make it work.





maestro's picture


Thank you for the vote of confidence.  I'll try to make it back to this string in the forum to update everyone in 30 days or so.  Just a quick couple items of clarification: 

  • Employee B is actually improving through the coaching.  If I left the impression above that she wasn't improving, I apologize.  She is most certainly improving, but not yet producing sales at the level of Employee A.
  • My reference to a "mediocre manager" above was describing the manager who wouldn't care enough to solicit feedback from other managers (such as on this post).  That being said, I will certainly work to be sure MY behavior is effective as well!  Otherwise, I can't expect to reach the next level myself.

Thanks again to all of you-- I suppose this string would be a perfect example of why MT has the forums in place!

Best Regards,


nealmparker's picture

This is my first post on manager tools and I love the podcasts and other material.  I have an average performer in my office that I hired about three years ago.  He is not a non-performer (grounds for dismissal) but is someone that consistently requires motivation for him to perform.  I have struggled and struggled with how to address this (ranging from shot across the bow - which I have done) to aggressively working to improve his performance but he always seems to settle back into a 2.5 (on a scale of 1 - 5 weak to strong performer).  Does anyone have suggestions for other resources I could access on addressing this type of person?  Some days I feel it would be easier to have someone who was outright non-performing as it makes it much easier for dismissal!  Incidentally, I am with a government organization (Army).

Thoughts I have are to accept this reality and continue working with him in this capacity, regular feedback, etc.  It is tough thought, as I have several strong performers in my office and I still find myself gravitating to having to spend more time with this weak to average performer than the others where my time should be focused.

I have the managers tools book, implement the trinity regularly, and am pretty familiar with the podcasts on performance, shot across the bow, etc.  I wanted to get some additional insight from people with experience on this type of person.

Thank you for anyones perspective, advice, resources!