Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Working with mediocrity

After the last few years of working with mainly young enthusiastic AIESECers, I am in a somewhat different situation now. AIESEC members I worked with were there because they wanted to learn, to develop, and to do something useful. They may have lacked knowledge or experience due to their youth, but they had passion and willingness to do things in a good way (not all , but at least, majority of them).

Lately, I have been involved in the work for certain projects where I had to deal with people who did nothing more and nothing less than mediocre work. I clearly understand now that mediocrity is something I want to avoid dealing with as much as possible.

What does a mediocre person do (from my experience):

This person performs his/her task just up to the level what is said to be done, never more! No creativity whatsoever, just blind following of guidelines.

Real example from a meeting:
- Ohh, I was waiting for this meeting, good we have it.
I ask:
- So, why did you wait for this meeting? What do you think the purpose of this meeting is anyway?
- Ehhh... because we need to have it.

This person claims that he/she "has not seen my email in the mailbox for last two days and has discovered it just now".

The rule of mediocrity: never take initiative, try to escape any tasks as much as possible. After most of the work is done by someone else, ask for face-saving: "Is there anything else I could help with?"

Real, but modified example of me asking:
- Why would you like to make a project in the food industry? Why are you interested in it?
- Well, because I really like to eat! For example, I cooked a nice dinner yesterday.


Mediocrity is even worse than working with people with bad intentions. Bad people don't hide their bad intentions and it is therefore easy to get rid of them. But you can never say that mediocre person has been bad, because he/she has actually fulfilled the very minimum requirements or at least found good-sounding excuse not to have done it, which you are forced to believe.

I remember the days when I was a leader of different teams in AIESEC. I discovered that one of the best rules of management is focusing attention on those who are above mediocrity. I did not care much about the rest, although they were also the members of my teams. It brought results.

I actually made a rule for myself that I would eliminate mediocrity from my life. I simply try to get to environments and try to create my own environment where there is little space for that. I know it all may sound too harsh, but I just believe that I can spend my time and energy doing something good and useful for the people who put a real effort, who strive and want to learn.

Luckily, I have enough people like that in my life.