Boosting Store Performance by Motivating the Middle

Take a quick survey of your team. Where are you focusing your motivational efforts? 

Do you hone in on the leaders and go-getters, rewarding pro-activity? 

Do you micro-motivate the slackers and troublemakers of the bunch? 

While these groups need that extra push to do especially great work, they likely aren’t who need that source of inspiration most. So, let’s take a look at why it’s more important to motivate a distinct third group in your workforce: the middle.

In his book, Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations, T.J. Sullivan theorizes that every company, organization, or group has three segments of people: the top, middle, and bottom thirds. And according to Sullivan, you’ll make the most use of your motivational efforts when you focus on that middle third.

Yeah, but that’s referring to college groups,” you might be thinking. What does it have to do with my business?” Well, you might be working among members of this age group. Motivating the Middle was released in 2011, so about 99% of Sullivan’s audience is now in the workforce, which means you might be struggling to manage performance among this demographic in your own company. 

So, what are these thirds made up of? How do you find them within your organization? Time to explore just that!

Top third

If you’re reading this blog post, there’s a good chance you’re in the top third. These are the leaders within an organization, even those without official rank who naturally display leadership characteristics. Top third people always have thoughts about where the company is going and how to improve things. 

They are motivated by awards, recognition, status, influence, and even perks. They constantly set goals and steer the company toward meeting them. In short, the top third already gets it. They’re already motivated. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reward them for their performance, but rather that they need less incentive because they’re largely self-motivated.

Middle third

Numerically, this is the largest group within your organization. The middle third sees work as a priority, just not the top priority. They’ll put their heads down and get to work, but they’re not as naturally excited about it as those in the top third are. They also hate drama among the team. They dislike any kind of distraction, preferring instead to stay focused on work.

But be careful not to interpret that focus as automatic support of leadership. Just because the middle is working hard doesn’t mean you’ve won them over. Top-third leaders often make the mistake of trying to motivate the middle by using the methods that would work on themselves. But the middle thinks differently. They’re not motivated by awards or recognition. Instead, they want to feel that they’re a part of the organization’s success.

Bottom third

We’re not here to berate your employees or to make you think less of them. But statistically, there is a lower third of every team. They tend not to put much effort into meetings or projects. They might publicly criticize the company. They’re just…kind of along for the ride.

The problem is that the bottom third are often only motivated by getting what they want with as little work as possible. They’ll show up for every party and fun event, but ask them to help organize one, and you’re out of luck. 

Focus on the middle

Bottom-third people aren’t likely to get motivated by your direct efforts, no matter what you do. They might enjoy perks or recognition, but unless you offer these perks perpetually, this bottom group won’t continue to put work into a project. They should not get the larger portion of your motivational effort.

Top-third people don’t need as much motivation in the first place. After all, you’re here, reading about ways to improve your team, and there’s a good chance no one asked you to do it.

The middle third should get most of your effort. Too many organizations focus on the problem children” in the bottom third or they reward the leaders at the top. Remember, the middle won’t be motivated by those same rewards, so you can’t take a blanket approach and cycle everyone in an organization or group through the awards process. 

Not only will different motivational tactics effectively propel different groups towards action, but there is also a potential positive byproduct of focusing on the middle. By seeing the middle motivated and rewarded, this may influence the bottom third to become a bit more engaged than they currently are.

Arcade helps you motivate better

Motivating and incentivizing your team takes work. iQmetrix’s newest partner, Arcade, helps wireless retailers scale engagement across stores and teams to maximize productivity. Transform your store KPI’s into games designed to keep everyone engaged and productive — not just your top-level superstars! 

To learn more about tailored employee motivation or schedule a live demo with the team that can make it happen, visit Arcade’s partner page.