Three kinds of corporate mediocrity
Uncaring mediocrity, in which employees have given up trying to make things better
Focused mediocrity, in which the organization is intentionally average
Accidental mediocrity, in which people don’t even realize that they’re not delivering excellence
Uncaring mediocrity is the most common form, and it often accompanies scale. It’s the accidental outcome that comes from trying to emulate an organization that’s focused on its mediocrity.
The mechanization and industrialization of cottage industries (like hotels, restaurants and healthcare) has led to a convenient homogenization for many. It means you can travel around the world and find better than decent accommodations and safe food, all at a fair price.
But it also means that most of the people working in these entities are treated like interchangeable cogs. They have no say at all about how things are done (or at least feel that way) and so they’ve emotionally checked out. It’s easier that way.
The products and services revert to the mean, sucking the humanity out of not just the people who work there, but from the interactions the customers have as well.
If you have a lousy meal at a real restaurant, the owner could hear from you and, it’s likely, not only fix it, but get back to you. Have a lousy experience with a Host, a Taco Bell, or a JW Marriott, though, and the odds are that the individual who reads your review has never even visited the place you’re talking about, and certainly doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.
One of the promises of the worldwide behemoth corporation was that reliability and quality was assured. The downside is that the chances that an internal insurgent can make things better go down.
As we see so many organizations seek to emulate the scale, influence and profits of the Fortune 100, it’s worth remembering that uncaring mediocrity shouldn’t be a north star.
Focused mediocrity is different. It’s intentional. It’s the act of chasing the banal, so that the largest possible number of people will be satisfied enough not to complain. This is the sieve of deliverability and the sword of mass.
The third kind of mediocrity happens when someone is uninformed. When they’re too busy or too lazy to pay attention to the taste of those they seek to serve or they don’t care enough to deliver it with quality and humanity.
At least have the guts to be mediocre on purpose.