Think Inside the BARP-COTT℠ Box to Optimize Performance

Performance management is all about helping people achieve their potential.

Regardless of their function, all employees in your organization can be placed into the BARP-COTT Box℠ above:

BARP (Behavior/Attitude; Results/Performance) – all are relative to your organization’s standards.

  • Behavior/Attitude – includes the behaviors and attitudes an individual displays when performing his or her job while interacting with others (customers, co-workers, supervisors, vendors).
  • Results/Performance – includes the measurable outcomes and contributions an individual delivers when performing his or her job, relative to your organization’s standards.

COTT (Coachable-Optimal-Tolerable-Terminal)

  • Coachable – the individual has a great attitude and positive behaviors, but consistently delivers less than the expected (or required) results, but is willing to work to improve results. Most new employees start in this quadrant.
  • Optimal – the individual consistently achieves 100% or more of what is expected, and consistently displays a positive attitude and behaviors while performing the job.
  • Tolerable – the individual consistently achieves the performance results, but falls short of Optimal because of an unacceptable attitude and/or behavior, which you tolerate because he or she is producing results.
  • Terminal – the individual consistently underperforms in result areas, while doing so with unacceptable attitudes and/or behaviors.

Strategies for Optimals and Terminals

Let’s start with the obvious: you want a team of Optimals and you need to punt the Terminals. Quickly!

In most organizations, managers spend a disproportionate time trying to fix the Terminals, and leave the Optimals to their own devices because they are performing well. Both of these approaches are ineffective.

You cannot get out of a Terminal what isn’t already there. The faster you help the Terminal to move on, the better, before damage is done to your customers and other staff members. As expeditiously as your process permits, part company. One minute longer is one minute too long.

The Optimals can teach you about success, because they are the embodiment of success. They do a consistently good job the right way and never cause problems.

Spend the largest amount of your time here learning what you can from them, so you can replicate it in the rest of the staff. You also help them by removing obstacles so they can achieve even greater success. Optimals need the freedom to experiment and innovate, and you can demonstrate your trust in them by allowing them incubator space for their ideas.

Strategies for Coachables

Here is where to invest the second largest portion of your time. Most good performance is going to be the results of someone correctly applying his or her skills, knowledge, and talents. Skills and knowledge can be taught; and all three can be coached.

Coaching is the process that should follow teaching and goal setting. Coaching is helping people to master what they have learned. Most of your time with Coachables should be spent in coaching them – asking what is and is not going well, and what they are learning in the process of mastering what they’ve been taught. Coachables need feedback! The need you to lead the self-discovery process by asking questions to make Coachables think.

Sometimes Coachables need an Optimal to mentor them. Your job as manager of a mentoring program is to make it work for both the Coachable and Optimal.

Pay careful attention to the ongoing development of your Coachables to ensure they are progressing.

Strategies for Tolerables

Tolerables can go either way – to Terminal, or Optimal. As their supervisor, create the ability for them to move to one or the other. Bad behavior (or attitudes) cannot be tolerated very long, even with good performance, because it infects the rest of your team’s performance. And since behavior and attitude are both under the command of the individual, spending lots of time trying to change what someone will not change, is a poor investment of your time.

Tolerables need to be given positive feedback on their results when warranted, and little room to negotiate on their behavior or attitude. They are capable of being Optimals, but only if they want to. If they insist on bad behavior or attitudes, you must take decisive and speedy action.

Because of these things, Tolerables should get a little less of your time than Coachables. If their behavior or attitude does not rapidly become acceptable, they need to leave the team for the greater good of the team. Two options:

  • You could move them off the team entirely, and do so in a way that doesn’t create a liability for the organization.
  • In the event they are so exceptional in getting results, move them into a solo performer role where they won’t interact with the team (or customers).

Ultimately the choice is yours. You are the one who manages them and permits them to continue on the team. Decisive and timely action wins the day. So think inside the BARP-COTT Box to optimize your organization’s performance.

Boyer Management Group works with organizations that want to get the best out of their people, and with senior managers who want to improve their effectiveness. For employers, we offer world-class talent acquisition and onboarding tools, assessments, and high-result programs. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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