When you describe something as mediocre, you mean that it is of average quality but should be better. As a guy who has put bread on the table for more than 25 years as a management consultant, I can tell you that the talent in most companies is mediocre.

Conservatively speaking, I've worked with more than a hundred organizations--most of them Fortune 200 firms. But I've worked with my fair share of regional and middle-market firms as well. Regardless, the quality of the talent in most places follows a bell curve, with the outliers being the 10 percent that inhabit each end of the curve--outstanding talent on one side, subperformers on the other, and 80 percent of staff smack-dab in the middle.

Why is the bar set so low?

There are several reasons why business leaders have come to accept mediocrity, including:

  • It takes a lot of energy to make things better.
  • You want to be liked.
  • You don't want to rock the boat.
  • Your brand reputation attracts less ambitious people.
  • The sense of entitlement in our society has lowered your expectations.
  • You, too, are fairly average.
  • You're in your comfort zone.
  • Your business makes money in spite of itself.

What can you do about it?

If you're one of those leaders that want to raise your team's performance past mediocrity, here are 5 tips to get you started:

  1. Establish a vision story that people can relate to. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves--make your business that thing they want to be part of by developing a vivid and compelling story that your staff can see themselves in.
  2. Develop an improvement plan. Translate the steps needed to achieve the vision into projects and programs that can improve staff performance and deliver business results. These projects and programs will be staffed and executed by your people, which provides them with an opportunity to be part of making your business better--engaging them in that something that is bigger than themselves.
  3. Define measurements that align with expected results. Many management systems measure the wrong things, rewarding effort and longevity more often than results. Be sure your management systems measure business results! When the goals are well understood and achievable, the motivated will work harder to deliver.
  4. Reward results. As the old adage says, you get what you pay for. When measurements are properly aligned, paying for results is a good way to motivate desired effort among your staff.
  5. Celebrate little victories. Besides monetary reward, the simple act of celebrating achievement goes a long way toward reinforcing desired behaviors. So be sure to celebrate those little achievements in performance improvement as they come along. It shows that you're paying attention and are appreciative of the extra effort.

To close, as leaders, shifting the staff performance bar from mediocre to outstanding requires desire and effort on your part. But this type of cultural shift can be achieved. It begins with vision and planning, and continues to evolve through proper alignment, measurement, and rewards. I hope you feel that the desired results are worth the work required to move the bulk of the bell curve to the good side.