Mediocrity Matters

Mediocrity Matters

I have been reflecting on mediocrity recently. My goodness, there’s a lot of it about.

Lots of things have taken my thoughts down that melancholy path. For example, I have been asked to assist in the recruitment of an HR Business Partner for a client. It’s a lovely role with a very nice company, hybrid working if wished, well paid with a bonus. The applicants have been asked to write a covering letter matching the essential requirements and evidencing that they match them. The advert takes the time to spell out that we won’t consider your CV unless you do so. But not one has done it properly. Most of them didn’t send a letter, not even when reminded. And those that did sent an “I’m great! Read my CV!” standard letter.

Why in heaven’s name would I want to interview someone for such a senior post who can’t be bothered to get the basics right? It tells me they are not detail conscious or diligent, both essential characteristics.

Mediocrity seems to have become the norm. Look at the general performance of politicians (of all shades and nationalities),journalists, police, the judiciary, civil servants, NHS management, NT board, unions, universities, banks, telecoms … the list goes on for a depressingly long time. There seems to be no one truly capable and inspiring around. If I wasn’t doing sober October, I’d probably have several stiff drinks and go to bed for the rest of the month.

I started working for myself 25 years ago because I could not bear the mediocrity of the senior management team in the business that employed me. The SMT was dreadful, and my boss was equally awful. Nice people. Terrible leaders. I couldn’t understand how my boss got the job and how having got it she held it. But in a company run by poor quality leaders it’s easy for the wrong people to get promoted. They don’t even have to be any good at their job. They just show up, chat with the boss, and tell everyone how hard they’re working (even if they’re not). The next time a position opens up, they get promoted.

Too often leaders turn to people they like to promote rather than someone that deserves it.

You should not and must not tolerate mediocrity in your business. It will cost you money and drag you down. There are good people out there, but they are few and far between. You usually have to kiss a heck of a lot of toads (sic) before finding the prince or princess you’re after. So how do you find the right people?

Nurture employee prospects in the same way you nurture prospective customers. Look for good people all the time. Get to know them and stay in touch, even when you’re not recruiting.

Good people tend to know good people. Ask the best people you know who they recommend and ask for an introduction.

My preferred route is to recruit for attitude and train for skills. It takes longer but if you train conscientiously it tends to pay dividends.

Look for positive attitude and consistently good/ appropriate conduct. People who are willing to work hard, will help when you need it, and who will be cheerful and learn from their mistakes.

Plan ahead. This is how you build your talent pool. You just filled a position? Great! So, who will take their place when they leave? Start working on that. Everyone will leave sooner or later. Long term preparation is key.

When you find talent in your business, nurture it straight away. Positive, smart people do not come easily. When you find one of these people, teach them everything and treat them like a diamond, because that’s what they are.

With existing staff, if someone is under-performing talk to them at an early stage and encourage them to improve so they meet and maintain your standards. Too often employers don’t do this because it’s hard.

If you are developing talent daily and always keeping an eye toward the future so you are not blindsided when someone quits, you will be in the exact right spot. You will be on your way to breaking that mediocre leadership chain.

Carving out a career in leadership can be rewarding. Seeing others succeed as a direct result of your guidance is one of the best parts of the job. It is discouraging when you see mediocre talent getting pushed up the ladder.

Recruit and promote true talent and dedication. Do not tolerate political game players or people who gossip. Look at numbers. Look at commitment and consistency. Don’t get side-tracked because you think someone is nice. Nice is not all that matters. Step back and look at the bigger picture. Ask the rest of the team what they think as well, when appropriate.

Find your diamonds, even if they’re rough diamonds (just polish them). Taking the time to invest in others, do the hard work, and you will be doing your part to help break the chain of mediocre leaders. Your contributions of promoting people for the right reasons will have a ripple effect through any organisation you lead.


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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2022 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.