In the bustling world of work, where superstars snag headlines and underperformers hog attention, there is a silent majority, the mid-level performers. Topher, from accounting (you know, the one with the stapler collection?), is a perfect example. Topher embodies the quintessential workplace “middle child.” He never throws a wrench into the office routine, rarely needs handholding, and consistently delivers dependable, B+ quality work. Yet, much like the strategically placed middle finger on your hand, Topher can get a bad rap. Stuck between the thunderous applause for top performers and the constant intervention needed for struggling colleagues, Topher might feel lost in the shuffle, like he is perpetually standing in the middle of a group photo, partially obscured by someone else’s elbow.

Here is the crucial truth: Topher, and his fellow mid-level performers, are the unsung heroes of any organization or the workplace’s workhorses. They are the dependable engines that keep the company car chugging along. They meet deadlines consistently, rarely make waves, and deliver solid, reliable work. 

Ignoring Topher is a recipe for disaster. Just like a neglected middle child might start expressing themselves through questionable fashion choices, a disengaged Topher can lead to increased boredom, decreased productivity, and ultimately, a revolving door at your office.

So, how do we turn Topher, the quiet achiever, into Topher, the thriving team member?

The power of recognition: It all starts with acknowledging their awesomeness. A simple “thank you” or a shoutout during a team meeting can work wonders. Managers, a thank-you note is not a participation trophy; it is the gold medal Topher deserves for keeping the metaphorical office hamster wheel spinning. Public recognition validates Topher’s contributions and motivates him to continue his excellent work.

Fueling growth. Do not assume that because Topher is not vying for the CEO position, he does not crave growth. Offer training, workshops, or challenging projects that push him out of his comfort zone (but not so far that he needs therapy.). Perhaps Topher is interested in learning about a new software program or taking on a leadership role in a specific project. Identify his interests and aspirations and provide opportunities that align with them. 

Setting SMART goals. Do not overwhelm Topher by asking him to win “Salesperson of the Year” on day one. Instead, set goals that make him stretch, but are still achievable. SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) provide a clear roadmap for Topher’s development and a sense of accomplishment when he reaches them.

Unleashing the coach within. Turn Topher into an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like figure by encouraging him to coach new hires – just like Luke Skywalker. This not only strengthens his leadership skills and deepens his understanding of his own role, but also offers him a fresh perspective. Topher might even discover a passion for coaching that leads him down a new career path within the organization.

The power of feedback. Regular check-ins and constructive criticism are essential for keeping Topher on track and preventing him from becoming stagnant. Focus on both his strengths and weaknesses, providing specific examples and actionable steps for improvement. Remember, feedback is a two-way street. Encourage Topher to ask questions and share his own insights.

Embracing the culture of “failing forward.” Let Topher know that taking calculated risks is not only acceptable but also encouraged. Share stories of employees who learned from their mistakes and became rock stars. Even Thomas Edison went through a lot of bad light bulbs before finding the right one. A culture that embraces calculated risks fosters innovation and encourages employees to step outside their comfort zones.

Topher, and all the other mid-level performers out there, are the foundation of any successful organization. By recognizing their value and investing in their growth, management is not just helping Topher, but helping your entire company thrive. After all, a symphony needs a strong supporting cast, not just a bunch of divas.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 17 April 2024