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Your employee performance boils you down to one of three tiers

Employee performance

The three tiers are the dirty secret of management.

Is your employee performance categorized correctly?

Your overall employee performance is what really matters to your manager. Have you had a recent conversation with them about your current performance and future opportunities? This is your career. The best way to keep track of your career is to talk with the judge and jury. AKA, your manager. You should be talking to our manager on a regular basis.

We will go into what is a “regular basis” later in the post. For now, let’s focus on which tier your manager has bucketed you.

*The intent of this post isn’t about exposing the rating system. I want to make sure your employee performance is correctly judged. 

Your employee performance falls into one of three tiers

At a very high level, most managers have three tiers for employee performance. This is a pretty common practice within large corporations. I would say it is standard practice at Fortune companies. Smaller companies may not have a formal system but most managers have your performance pegged. For some companies, the tiers may be a little different. Some companies may view employees as “highly engaged, actively engaged and actively disengaged”. But there is some system, and we should know how we are perceived. 

Tier one: High Performers

This is the top 10% and highly engaged. The cream of the crop, the folks that are showing initiative, making the manager’s life easier, and outperforming the rest of the pack. Good managers will know to stay out of the High Performer’s hair. These folks need the least management effort and have the highest output. It’s all about management ROI folks, ROI. 

HR’s perception of employee performance:

Everyone thinks they are a high performer. 100% of the employees cannot make up the top 10%.

You don’t need to be an executive or a VP to be a high performer. There are high performers and problem children in entry-level positions.  Bank tellers and customer service representatives have both. Even at the VP level, there will be high-performing VP’s and problem children VP’s. That doesn’t mean they are performing lower than an entry-level person. This is a comparison amongst peers. 

Tier Two: Steady Eddie

This group makes up a majority of the workforce and department. Managers love Steady Eddies and there is nothing wrong with this category.  Realistically, not everyone is going to have the motivation, talent, or grit to make it into the high performer’s group. Be happy if you are in this category. As a group, Steady Eddies make up a very strong workforce and about 80% of the department.  This group is actively engaged. 

 Managers will hire Steady Eddies all day long and be happy with their team. This is a well-functioning team that is performing well with minimal drama.

Tier Three: Low Performers

This person is struggling to accomplish the day-to-day. Results are inconsistent. Low Performers may be thinking they are a top performer for a number of reasons. “I have been here for 10 years, I have tenure” does not make a top performer. “I am here every day on time” is not the only thing required for top performance.  Performance could be falling for any number of reasons:

  • Burnt out/bad attitude
  • Personal issues outside of work
  • Feel mismanaged by the company (right or wrong)

At the end of the day, managers are interested in ROI.

How much are you accomplishing and how much management effort do you require?

Breakdown of High Performers:

Within the high performers, there are the one-two percenters. These are the top performers in the pack of High Performers. The others are valued, but there will always be someone that is perceived as their go-to. The Michael Jordans can handle any challenge with little or no drama. If you are a high performer, your goal may be to be a one-percenter. Or, another option is to shoot for a promotion. You may be ready for the next step in your career. 

Breakdown of Steady Eddies

Within the Steady Eddies, the manager is making further observations and asking additional questions. Are there Steady Eddies that:

  • can be High Performers with a little coaching? These are employees with High Potential or HiPo’s. With a little bit of coaching, these folks can be High Performers. Again, ROI. With a little effort, the manager can have big results.
  • may fall into the low-performing group for any number of reasons. EG:
    • A big change in the organization that won’t be well-received
    • Passed over for a promotion or large client
    • Personal issues which are affecting professional performance

Further breakdown of Low Performers

Managers are human beings. Just like you and me, managers don’t want trouble or drama. Managers have bosses and they want to report good news. If everyone was doing their job well, we wouldn’t need managers. Managers “manage”. In a perfect world, managers would be called “coaches”. Coaches invest time to improve performance. Managers are working on “managing problems”.

Managers look at their group of employees and divide this group into two camps. Which Low Performer:

  1. has the potential to become a Steady Eddie
  2. should I be looking at replacing

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t want to be a dick

This isn’t much different than any sports team. Sports teams have coaches (managers), athletes (employees), and championships (goals) to win. This is a bit of a generalization but the analogy is similar. Sports teams have:

  • Stars who everyone wants to emulate. If the athlete has their own sneaker, they are a high-performer.
  • Utility players who are absolutely needed and have the potential to become franchise players
  • Athletes the fans want to be traded off the team. They may not fit into the team because of personality (drama), low performance or the team just doesn’t need that particular skill set anymore.

When fans want athletes traded

Coaches and fans are asking two questions of Low Performers:

  1. Can this athlete get better with time (how long till they are a steady Eddie/utility player?)
  2. Should they be traded/let go?

I am not a fan of stack ranking

I know there are a few managers and execs that subscribe to this blog. If you are thinking of evaluating everyone every year and cutting the bottom 10%, I am not a fan. I don’t want to have Leonardo Da Vinci, Einstein, and Elon Musk on the team and be forced to cut one because of the math.

Again, I want to inspire more communication between the manager and the employee. Many employees assume they are top performers. But until you talk with your manager and have a transparent and honest conversation, how do you know how you are doing? 

I practice what I preach

At the company I am working with, most employees meet with their managers on a regular basis. Regular isn’t one time a year at the annual review. Employee performance and future goals are the usual topics. I meet with my CEO once a week. Most employees meet with their manager for 30 minutes once every one to two weeks. 

I have two posts on how to have a manager meeting:

If you haven’t had a candid conversation with your managers, put one on the calendar. It will be hard for a manager to be disgruntled if you want to talk about how you can make your manager’s life easier by being a high performer.


Good luck,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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