the Myth of Mediocrity

In our recently released whitepaper Maximizing Your Human Capital Investment (Dec 2015), we shared information about the huge difference in performance between the average, mediocre organization, and the high-performing, exceptional organization. Having only 26% of their employees being unengaged and 7% being actively disengaged, exceptional organizations have 67% of their employees who are engaged. This leads to not only more work being done, but that work is more highly focused on doing the things that really matter for reaching the organization’s goals. The mediocre organization, on the other hand, has 55% unengaged and 19% actively disengaged employees, leaving only 26% of employees who are engaged.

Exceptional organizations have a Payroll Efficiency Factor™ (PEF) of 78% versus the average organization’s PEF of only 63%. This difference translates into 24% more work being done in the exceptional organization; a loss of $19,000 per week per 100 employees for the mediocre organization. This is money that the organization is paying its employees, but not receiving any return on because of the low engagement levels. But it doesn’t just stop there. If engagement levels were increased and that $19,000 were recovered, then because the work is now highly focused, it could multiply several times, resulting in two- to five-million dollars added to the bottom line for every 100 employees.

If increasing employee engagement can impact performance so dramatically, then why aren’t more executives placing more emphasis on the things that matter and actually increasing employee engagement in their organization?

One reason is that there is confusion on what drives engagement and performance. It is not making employees happy, or paying them huge sums of money. We shared a few items in the whitepaper, and we have another article available, Understanding The Dynamics of Employee Engagement , that shares the four Elements that combine to create engagement. But there may be a more fundamental reason why most executives don’t place more emphasis – they simply don’t believe that being mediocre applies to them. After all, their organization is performing pretty good; they are a B-Player in their industry, and things are going ok. Surely taking things to the next level isn’t going to make that much difference, right?

They couldn’t be further from the truth!

When we look at a typical graph with a scale from 1 to 10, a normal bell curve would have the most employees clustered around the mid-point of 5. This is what most think of as being the “average” organization; a C-Player. But this organization would look considerably different from the average: it would have over twice as many actively disengaged employees (41%) and less than half as many engaged employees (11%) as the average organization. This puts about 90% of their workforce performing at suboptimal levels. With a Payroll Efficiency Factor™ at 50%, these organizations are throwing away more than half of their investment in their workforce.

These organizations often are characterized by toxic work environments where employees, and sometimes even managers, hate to go to work each day. They typically have frantic and inflexible managers who take a command and control approach, pushing for more performance out of their employees, and worry about the survivability of the organization, and these worries are not unfounded.

As frightening, scary, and accurate as this situation is for the C-Player organization, the executive at the B-Player organization is right; this does not represent the bulk of organizations and certainly not theirs.

The simple fact of the matter is that the majority of organizations do perform pretty well, and are not C-Players. According to a vast body of research, including that shared by Jim Collins in his popular business book “Good to Great,” most organizations are pretty good, and they need to be good in order to survive.

This means that C-Players are not the Average Organization!

It is the B-Player organization that is the average, mediocre organization. And while there is a huge amount of improvement that could be realized for the C-Player organization, it is the difference between the B-Players and the A-Players that we are talking about when we talk about the mediocre and the exceptional. It is the B-Players that are the ones that are losing $19,000 of work per week per 100 employees.

Can your organization really afford that?

This lack of realization about who the average organization really is becomes the greatest factor in why executives in most organizations don’t take a more serious approach to improving employee engagement and performance. Because they are “good enough,” it allows Mediocrity to take hold and begin to chain the organization to its old ways, creating a drag, and holding it back. Everyone, including the executives, become content with how things are; after all, things are good, right? So there is no desire to make things better, and certainly no sense of urgency to change the culture.

Instead of moving forward the organization fails to innovate, and competitors soon pass it by. Soon the B-Player organization is actually struggling to survive. While it may take a long time before anyone notices, the contentment is slowly deteriorating the organization.

Mediocrity is a huge force to contend with!

The first step in overcoming Mediocrity is to recognize that “good enough is never enough.” If the organization is not getting better, then it can only deteriorate. The second step is to realize that the only way that an organization can become exceptional is through its People. Finally, it takes executives that realize that only the leadership of the organization can engage its People by creating an environment that will allow them to want to and do great things.

While these three steps can begin to overcome the inertia of Mediocrity, it is only just the beginning of a long, and never ending journey. But with these kinds of returns, it is a journey that is very rewarding and well worth traveling.


To learn more, you can download the whitepaper Maximizing Your Human Capital Investment: Research Based Strategies for Increasing Organizational Performance from the Whitepaper section at There is never any registration required to access our research reports.