game, game. repeat.

Mediocrity Isn't Worth It

Fri 02 September 2016 #leadership

Companies and teams tend towards mediocrity over time. Call it entropy, call it regression to the mean…I’ve been pondering my own sins in this area lately, and I find myself wanting.

Mediocrity is infectious and it kills motivation, creativity, and productivity. But its sooo easy. It can start with a bad hire, whose not that bad. They’ve been here for years, they are likeable, they are loyal, they’ve got outstanding raw potential…but they struggle to get results. So after trying unsuccessfully to level them up, I (their manager) put them on the lower risk projects, the lower difficulty stuff, because, heck, there’s infinite work and nobody else wants to do it. And firing people is hard–it hurts them, their friends in the company, me…and my boss starts to wonder if I’m a bad manager, after all, I have bad reports. Its just so much easier to sweep the whole thing under the rug and focus my attention elsewhere.

Meanwhile, they’re taking up a seat that could be filled by someone excellent. AND the excellent people on the team keep having to compensate for the mediocre guy and they are getting tired of it. Maybe they decide, heck, if that’s the bar, why am I trying so hard? Or more likely, if they try so hard and are going to get blocked by mediocre people anyway, why not try harder on their side projects instead? A few of those and…voila! I’ve got a bonified mediocre team!

If I want a world class team, I need to fix people that don’t make the cut or fire them. Sometimes its my fault–I hire someone whose awesome, but they aren’t the right fit for this team with this need. That sucks. Sometimes its their fault. Sometimes people change. Sometimes the company changes. There are lots of reasons and lots of paths to mediocrity, its the easy way to be. But its not worth it. I’m not interested in just making it through life, I want to contribute something meaningful, and I can’t do that alone, nor as part of a mediocre team, and as a manager and leader, no one else is going to make my team excellent, that’s my job.