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The Coaching Corner with Michael Riegel: The Middle is Ripe with Opportunity

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“Being the middle child is like having a superpower: invisibility.” This came to me in an email recently. If you had not guessed, I am indeed a middle child. There were times when I felt invisible. I had an older sister striving forward and breaking in our parents. Equally challenging, I had a younger sibling who would best be described as a handful. As for me, I was easy-going, well mannered, dependable, and orderly. Is it any wonder that I drew less parental attention? I would argue that those of us in the middle have more important and lasting superpowers. 

I developed and sharpened my communications skills for a variety of personality types. I had to learn to self-advocate – for attention, time, and advice. I also became the bridge between my siblings, cousins, and friends who would best describe me as the peacemaker or confidante. There is also a greater middle to consider in the world of work that often gets short shrift.

My clients are beginning their performance review processes. They all have different methods of evaluating their team members – stack-ranking, self-assessments, 360 degree, or rating scales. In many circumstances, organizations focus on the high performers (pipeline to leadership) or the low performers (improve or separate). But what about the middle? If your organization is large enough, individuals will fall within a bell-shaped curve, or close to it. That means that most team members (60-70%) will fall in the mid-range. Assuming that the evaluations are done fairly and consistently. Organizations often overlook the impact of supporting the improvement of this cohort.

Corporate Culture is Crucial

The middle carries on the corporate culture and ethos of the company. By sheer volume, this group interacts more with clients, partners, and vendors. They will likely be supervising others and on-boarding new employees. While the high and low performers are getting attention for other reasons, the middle is keeping the spirit of the organization alive and healthy.

Workhorses Pulling Together

The middle is tasked with doing the hard work of successfully implementing initiatives. Essentially, interpreting the vision of leadership and figuring out how to make it work on the ground. This group is creative, productive, and adept at solving problems but often does not get the love and attention it warrants.

Supporting the middle to improve performance will have a more significant impact on achieving the organization goals. If your organization is starting the assessment process and determining the allocation of professional development budgets, consider how you can move the middle to greater efficiency and effectiveness. That can include technical training, soft skills training, coaching, or mentoring. Model their approach and be creative to stretch your development dollars to reach what might be described as the “forgotten middle.”

How are you evaluating performance? What creative solutions are you using? Please let me know how I can help your organization bring the middle some focused attention. You can reach me at

Michael Riegel


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