By Claire Ford, Chief Operating Officer, Quality Scotland
The Oxford English Dictionary describes mediocrity as ‘the quality of something that is not very good: a person who does not have the special ability to do something well’
Business sometimes lacks spark and momentum. How often do you find that some weeks – nothing changes! The day’s roll in and there’s just the long, arduous slog of doing the same things, day in, day out?
And it's in that sameness, in that cradle of monotony, that mediocrity is born.
If you are left unchallenged, you’ll probably just perform...adequately! Certainly, you’ll do what is right. You’ll do what is enough. You’ll excel intermittently, fail occasionally, but mostly, you just get by. Fundamentally, this mediocrity allows you to suffer from indifference to the job and your colleagues around you.
Conversely, others strive for business excellence. Organisations that hone and polish their business model, reshape their decision-making processes, and practice their organisational skills relentlessly. These companies work unceasingly at their product and service offerings, acutely conscious that they have to outperform the competitors. So whilst some may have a tendency to plough through each mundane day filled with mediocrity in performance, many others embrace theirs with such passion and commitment. No need to guess who the winners might be!
There is of course, no magic overnight formula for getting rid of mediocrity and creating an elixir of organisational excellence. However, it is clear that consistency in improvement methods is just as important as consistency in the guidelines that are deployed to get the entire organisation onside and on message.
The focus on continuous improvement within businesses that pursue a goal of excellence creates a high level consistency that leaves ‘mediocrity’ back on the starting blocks.
But let’s be realistic here. Having promoted excellence in Scotland for the best part of a quarter of a century, we’ve found this aspiration may not be given the focus it requires.
Some may think that Excellence is simply too hard to achieve. It might not be considered a realistic goal, but chronic inconsistency in improvement efforts will reduce any business to mediocre levels.
The European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) states that mediocre organisations strive to keep stakeholders quiet by doing the minimum of what is expected, with as little additional effort as possible. In other words - anything for an easy life! To counter this, EFQM believes that, regardless of size, sector or maturity, organisations need to establish an appropriate management framework.
These same organisations recognise that customers are a ‘necessary evil’ and do their level best to minimise complaints. Why? Because complaints means more work and they don’t want to subscribe to that!
Interestingly, EFQM also regard “Leaders” in mediocre organisations as having little idea where they are going or what they are trying to achieve BUT – they sure know who to blame if things go wrong.
I’m sure we have all come across companies who fall into these categories!
Much of the underlying issues with ‘mediocre organisations’, is the fear of the unknown. The inability to embrace change and the constructing of mental barriers to ensure it doesn’t happen. Some of these barriers might be as simple as that time honoured mantra “that’s the way it’s always been done around here”, why do we need to bother’? The truth, however, is very different. Convincing others that change can be worthwhile and profitable, should be a key driver.
When continuous improvement issues are not addressed or left to chance, productivity and competitive capability within the organisation will be seriously impaired. The narrower the focus, the less likely an organisation is to escape the mediocrity rut. The focus will be largely on delivering short-term goals and this invariable means a medium to long term struggle with aligning the creation of value by the firm with demand for value by its customers.
It is the responsibility of business leaders to develop effective managerial systems and accountability hierarchies to get work done. That is why leaders of high-performing organisations align and organise to ensure role clarity, personal accountability, and structured work processes all wrapped under a cogent umbrella of continuously improving their performance.
Rather than just talk about these things and be suspicious of change, they rightly regard mediocrity as an unwelcome part of the structure and strive for excellence in all that they do
Remember – Mediocrity is never good enough!