A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
February 6th, 2015 by William

Barnacle of Mediocrity

The 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross depicts two days in the lives of four New York real estate salesmen and how they become desperate when the corporate office sends a trainer “Blake” (Alec Baldwin) to “motivate” them by announcing that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired. To get his point across Blake tells them: “As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture?”

Let’s face it. There are some people in the world who are smarter, stronger, more beautiful, etc. than others. We are not all the same and we should stop pretending that we are. And because of that inequity the fact is that some of us will succeed, some will fail and the majority will scrape by as average–or to use a term most people don’t want to hear: mediocre. And this is ok–it’s reality. But that’s not the reality we as a culture seem to be willing to accept.

Our politically correct, don’t offend anyone, everyone’s a winner culture is our way of supposedly leveling the playing field and in a way “legislating” that everyone is equal. In our striving to be equal we’re not admitting to our own very real mediocrity. The fact is we try to pump everyone up into thinking they are way to the right on the bell curve of human capabilities. Because of this mentality there are no more mediocre people in the world–everyone’s a winner.

I guess it’s an esteem-boosting technique brought on by our innate need to pump ourselves up in the eyes of others. In today’s world everybody plays, everybody wins, and everybody gets a trophy. Those that really try hard to actually excel, and who should be the only ones getting a trophy, stand beside those that couldn’t, or flat out didn’t, make an effort but will also get a trophy. We give a trophy to the winners, the losers and all those who are mediocre in the middle.

According to Michael Sigman’s 2012 article, “When Everyone Gets a Trophy, No One Wins,” “America’s ‘everyone gets a trophy’ syndrome has become a national joke.” In the article, Sigman cites some startling statistics reflecting how absurd the situation has gotten. As he tells us, “‘A’ grades, which once conveyed excellence, are now given to 43 percent of all college students, according to a study by grade-inflation gurus Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy. This is an increase of a staggering 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. The study also reveals how easy it is to buy college credentials: a scandalous 86 percent of private school students, it turns out, get nothing lower than a ‘B.’ Some public schools refuse to allow anyone to get a grade below ‘C,’ so no student will ever fail.”

The sad truth is that with this mentality we, somewhat ironically, get just the opposite of what we, as a culture, are striving for. This “everyone’s a winner” mindset actually creates mediocrity. People who have given their all only to see the flunkards receive the same praise is nothing short of demoralizing. That’s because in the workplace the difference between working your butt off and just doing the minimum requirements of your job will most likely make only a 1-2% difference in your pay raise.

And it’s not just those that excel that become demoralized. So do the exact average people that this whole absurd mindset is supposed to benefit. The sobering reality is that once these “average” people enter the workforce they will face constant negative feedback on their performance. And the first career event that offers a rude awakening is when they receive their first performance appraisal. The typical performance review process is founded on the belief that the only way to motivate people to excel is to point out to them their shortcomings. Of course this “belief” directly conflicts with basic human nature in that we don’t like to be criticized. And more importantly it flies directly in the face with how most people entering the workforce have been conditioned, i.e., they are winners despite average results. They have been told repeatedly that they are special and deserve unbridled praise. Their first performance appraisal will truly be a rude awakening where many will find out way to late in life that they’re not as special and gifted as they’ve been told.

Society needs to fess up (just as business world has known all along) to the fact that people’s capabilities/intelligence/skills, etc. follow the classical bell curve. The whole performance review process is firmly founded in that fact. The typical performance review process is based entirely on the fact that we all perform according to the bell curve. People always have and always will follow the curve no matter how many trophies we give out for just showing up. The result is that by rewarding mediocrity we create a culture where mediocre is OK and that we don’t really need to push ourselves to be the best at whatever we’re doing.

And that’s not the worst effect of this cultural mindset. What’s worse is that we create a population that believes they “deserve” success regardless of effort. Unfortunately not everyone can be a success–certainly not in the workplace. This contagious mindset does nothing more than create an unfounded perception about who we think we are. Of course this plays right into, and reinforces, the “illusion of superiority” that we all have. That’s why the “everyone’s a winner” mindset has spread like wildfire.

Today brainwashed individuals enter the workforce and expect to rise to the top simply by showing up. But to thrive in business, it’s the exact opposite. You’ll never make it far if you believe that you can win just by coming to the game. To climb the corporate ladder you need to break free of this everyone “deserves” to be successful bullshit. It’s OK to work hard to outdo everyone else–in fact it’s almost mandatory if you want to climb the pyramid. Many years ago if someone was faced with a tough challenge, it was common for them to be told to suck it up–hard work is “character building.” Fact is it’s true. Much more so than showing up, taking a trophy and then going home believing you deserved it. That sounds more like a character flaw.

Believing that even though you’re truly only average yet still deserving to be successful, despite your effort, makes you nothing more than what the title of this article implies–a “barnacle of mediocrity.” You become nothing more than like a barnacle that clings to the hull of a ship. In the end this is bad for you and bad for the organization in which you work.

When a ship has too many barnacles they get in the way of steering the ship and actually slow the ship down. And an organization is just like a ship. And just like real ships, organizations collect barnacles. In this case the barnacles are those mediocre people who just put out the minimum to stay employed, yet somehow feel entitled to praise (and a raise) right up there with those that really excel. And ships regularly go into dry dock to have the barnacles removed–analogous to the “reduction in force” events that most organizations have at periodic times.

The bottom line is that no one should be content with being a barnacle of mediocrity. In fact what needs to happen is that society must give up this false dream that equality can be legislated simply by giving everyone a trophy regardless of their effort.

If you’ve been indoctrinated into the belief that you’re somehow special and expect the Cadillac El Dorado or the set of steak knives for whatever you do–no matter how good or bad–let me tell you what the real life workplace is like. The barnacles of mediocrity eventually get third prize.


2 Responses to “Barnacle of Mediocrity”
  1. I agree with everything you state,
    Except. ….for the beginning, where you point out people’s physical differences:

    “Let’s face it. There are some people in the world who are smarter, stronger, more beautiful, etc. than others.”

    I suppose you are implying that without these attributes a person will not likely succeed.

    I’m not naive , i know there are very specific industries where you at least need to have those qualities, (scientist, pro sports , professional modeling)

    But there are plenty of good looking or strong or smart people who are not successful !

    But outside of those industries, It really is the DESIRE and EFFORT that propels a person to success !

  2. Mabel Furneaux says

    You are so interesting! I don’t suppose I’ve read through anything like that before. So wonderful to find somebody with a few original thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

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