Best Performers are 4x ‘Better’ Than the Average – Really?


This assertion is made by Michael Mankins (Bain & Co. Organisation practice head for the Americas) on the basis of his company’s research, comparing personal productivity, particularly in the sales arena.

His blog on the Harvard Business Review website ( May 8th 2014) describing this position offers 3 things to take care about in order to make sure that your organisation maintains and develops sufficient high performers to deliver the best results.


These are:

1.  Assess your talent pool.

The starting point to know where the organisation’s human-capital strengths and weaknesses lie. The author reminds us to keep track of both performance and potential – but stresses focus on the former.

2.  Control your pipeline.

Keep direct control; don’t give this up to head-hunters.

3.  Have only high-performers conduct the interviews.

Mankins’ concern is that mediocre performers will tend to recruit those that would not threaten them. He also advocates using as many line managers as possible to make sure that the technical side of the role is well understood at interview, which is unlikely to be done well from within the HR function.


A healthy share of the best talent is seen as a requirement to a successful corporate future and it is difficult to argue with this position. However, the approach offered seems very narrow and one that an organisation full of subject matter experts might find little fault with.

Surely the ability to work at high performance must include the chance to do so within the corporate culture? Surely recognising top performance is a healthy mix of technical skill and the ability to work with those around you? Interviewing, as part of a complete recruitment process works best when involving SMEs (subject matter experts) and generalists (who can also be top performers – this is not s generic heading for average performers who somehow manage to survive in the corporate undergrowth). Performance management is a skill in itself and may well not be found at its best in SMEs.

Mankins uses the analogy of the company to a sports team or an orchestra. Both analogies are well understood. Both have room for top performers. Both know that all team members are not equally talented. Both recognise that team work is essential to achieve great results but the ‘magic’ ingredient that turns good to great (to use a phrase) is that ethereal quality of expectation from all the ‘players’ that they will deliver the best outcome.



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