The Mid-liers: Why they matter

bell curve1

One of the many subjects typically taught during an MBA course is the one on statistics. Hence the idea for this piece is inspired a subject which I scraped thru in college. One central topic is the study of a classic bell-curve : Normal distribution as it is in statistical parlance. This curve is often used in appraisal process to get the people divided into basically 2 categories:

  1. Outliers and
  2. The Mid-liers

Wikipedia defines an Outlier as an observation point that is distant from other observation. In a bell curve, outliers are either the top-most performers or the laggards who are typically shown the doors in most organizations. Outliers are typically the one’s having the most talent, pedigreed from top colleges, or the ones who get the highest ratings and many more. As this Huffington post article points out, “All too often, in our Talent Management processes — how we evaluate our people, compensation discussions, promotion opportunities, succession planning — we focus on the bottom performers (the left side of the bell) and on the top performers (the right side.)” Grabbing the most attention, outliers are most sought after in almost all fields like industry, sports, arts , name it and most probably an outlier grabs your eye.

Which comes to my main focus of the article which is Mid-liers. This term does not exist in the popular lexicon (another possible effect of outliers, observed). This author would define mid-liers as the middle, stocky part of the normal distribution curve. Midliers , typically are the largest in terms of population and strangely ignored despite most people falling into this category. Mid-liers are the middle class of the talent pool.

Here’s why midliers should command more heft than they usually do and why they matter:

  1. They are captive outliers: A case may be made that mid-liers are outliers-in-waiting. Top leaders always have a pool of leaders to select their successors. These people, essentially in the middle of the pack, on the timely opportunity are converted into outliers. There are many examples where this model may be seen. Whether it is TCS appointing N Chandrasekharan, or Satya Nadella being appointed Microsoft head, it is clear that in many cases the void from a leaving outlier is filled by a mid-lier.
  2. Greater probability of success : In six sigma concept, a 2-Sigma means 95.7% range of the bell curve is covered by the mid-liers and 4.3% are Outliers. That’s an overwhelming majority of people falling into this mid-category.
  3. Mid-liers can be more realistic: Owing to constraints under which they work, mid-liers can be excellent managers. Having moderate expectations can result in better employee relations and less stress at workplace.As Scott Sonenshein Writes in his book, Stretch, “Why might fewer resources lead people to view them more expansively? Diving in deeper, the researchers uncovered a key explanation for their results. With abundance, people treat resources as what they appear on the surface, utilizing them in traditional ways. But when people face scarcity, they give themselves freedom to use resources in less conventional ways. Our problems, challenges, or opportunities become more manageable with constraints that direct us to make the best out of what we have. Without constraints, research finds that our tendency is to retrieve from memory exemplary uses of resources—we typically sit on a chair, so that’s how we think of chairs. It’s the functional fixedness that drives chasing—seeing resources only as what they appear to be on the surface. We follow a “path of least resistance” model, which allows us to conserve mental energy by instinctively turning to commonplace ways of thinking”

Can’t we all be outliers? Of course not. Being an outlier necessitates being ahead of the pack. But with luck and talent combined, one can be a future outlier.







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