Capping Mediocre Performance


Today’s organizations carry a desire to promote the concepts of high performance teams.  Yet, few managers are willing to put in the work to make this happen. According to Merriam-Webster Online, mediocre is defined as ‘of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance.’ The concept of mediocre is synonymous with being average or ordinary.  What individual worth his salt wants to be called mediocre? 

Employers know how to deal with troublemakers in the organization or poor performers.  However, how does an organization get rid of a person who is average?  Who is willing only to do enough to keep his or her job?  Perhaps, mediocre performance is generated by the lack of trust among workers.  In 2010, a Right Management study of over 4,000 employees in the U.S. showed a problem with employee trust in in their organization.

Over 57% occasionally trusted their managers to make the right decisions.  In fact, three quarters of all employees surveys had a low trust factor toward their managers.  Why should they trust their supervisors?

Today’s American workers are one of the most effective workforces across the global when the gauge is high productivity.  These workers are often greeted with deflating wages and threats of outsourcing of their jobs or company layoffs. Lee Ozley, management advisor, has been watching mediocre performance over the years as a consultant for businesses.  He has been amazed at how senior managers allow mediocre performance to continue in their organizations: “When I then get to know some of the ‘mediocre’ performers, it is not too difficult to determine what they believe to be the perception of the boss regarding their performance.”

Why don’t bosses care enough about their colleagues to ‘tell it like it is?’ Even organizations with fairly sophisticated performance appraisal systems seem to have the same problem – people simply don’t know where they stand. How can an employee be expected to continuously improve if their boss won’t level with them?” Therefore, setting expectations and having a method to ensure compliance is critical.

Richard Daft, author of Management, argues the importance of management involvement in creating higher performance: “All managers have to pay attention to costs, but severe cost cutting to improve efficiency can sometimes hurt organizational effectiveness. The ultimate responsibility of managers is to achieve high performance….” 

However, some organizations fail to understand that people are not like other resources. People can think and make different choices. Companies attempted to put their evaluations of their performance on autopilot with little regard of the individual employees. 

Yet, Gareth Jones and Jennifer George, authors of Contemporary Management, argue that any performance appraisal should include meaningful feedback to employees:  “For the appraisal and feedback component of a human resource management system to encourage and motivate high performance, managers must provide their subordinates with feedback.”  However, employees are not fool with concerns by managers.  Organizations need to build an engaging corporate culture that stimulates outstanding achievement instead of cynical employees who have mediocre performance. 

Discuss the concept of mediocre employee performance in organizations.

 © 2013 by Daryl D. Green                                    


11 thoughts on “Capping Mediocre Performance

  1. Dr. Green,

    Thanks again for addressing another very important leadership topic. Up until the early 70’s Productivity and Compensation remained on an even path upward. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Compensation path dramatically slowed while productivity demands continued along the same path. The cumulative percentage as of 2011 shows a gap where Productivity is double what Compensation is. In other words the overall compensation has been 50% of what the productivity (or work) has been. See “The Wedges between Compensation and median Compensation Growth”

    I think it is important to understand and ask a few questions here. Why did this drastically change in 1973? According to the article “the economy could afford higher pay but it was not providing it.” By digging into the numbers it appears part of the issue is that higher-wage workers received higher wages and the median wage worker did not see any growth in compensation. Basically “the median worker (whether male or female) has not enjoyed growth in compensation as fast as that of higher-wage workers, especially the very highest paid. This reflects the wedge of growing wage and compensation inequality.” This is not simply a gap it is a trend. There is much more to pull out here and I would encourage you to see what else you can pull from this data.

    In an analysis I completed in 2009 for US AID entitled “Latin America & the Caribbean in 2035: The Impact of Governance on Productivity and Economic Growth” I concluded that some of the same problems identified above existed in the Latin American region except for two countries who did not experience these issues. In a follow-up for US AID entitled “Latin America & the Caribbean in 2050: A Forecast of Drivers of Social Cohesion” I concluded that social inequality was the driver that led to the income disparity. My solution was Social Cohesion and it was a response to the Social Inequality gap coined by Emile Durkheim. Durkheim included the following in his concept:

    1) Belonging – isolation: that means shared values, identity, feelings of commitment;
    2) Inclusion – exclusion: concerns equal opportunities of access;
    3) Participation – non-involvement;
    4) Recognition – rejection: that addresses the issue of respecting and tolerating
    differences in a pluralistic society;
    5) Legitimacy – illegitimacy: with respect to institutions.

    I think we might be able to conclude that the mediocre worker could be experiencing some of these issues within their organizations and with their leaders. As you stated “Organizations need to build an engaging corporate culture that stimulates outstanding achievement instead of cynical employees who have mediocre performance.” If their culture is not built with these basic concepts that foster belonging, inclusion, participation, recognition and legitimacy is it any wonder that we are producing mediocre workers? Instead of fostering concepts that lead to mediocre performance organizations should foster a cohesive culture that produces highly motivated workers who achieve the objectives of the organization.


  2. Mediocre employee performance in organizations

    Boosting employee productivity at no cost to the company is one of the ways to encourage employees to become highly productive in the work force. One way, is for managers to have a plan and deadlines. Brush (2010) in her article points out that “employees are excited to be productive when they are accountable for delivering something important to a company’s success”. Also, when managers are “generous with praise for employees who go the extra mile, improve their performance or exceed expectations” ( Brush,2010) this will encourage them to become more productive. Being recognized for their achievements motivates them to be more than a mediocre employee. Lastly, being a leader by example is an effective way of showing employees acceptable behavior in the work place. Important things like “being timely, organized, quality – oriented, a good communicator and taking initiative” (Brush, 2010) are some of the values of being a good role model as a manager.

    Brush,K. (2010) How to boost employee productivity. Fox business news. Retrieved from

  3. One of the most difficult challenges employers may face is dealing with mediocre employees. They do just enough work to stay under the radar, but show little interest in work beyond what is specifically stated in their job description.
    Managers must do whatever possible to challenge employees by encouraging their roles in decision-making and through teamwork. “Employees appreciate a manager’s guidance, and will feel appreciated and motivated to perform.” (Kantor, 2010, para. 2).
    To change an employee’s behavior, a manager must adopt an approach to motivate that behavior. If an employee’s good behavior is not reinforced, soon that behavior will decrease. If a mediocre employee is motivated by positive reinforcement, it can motivate the employee to excel beyond usual performance levels. In some cases, criticism or negative reinforcement serve as a motivator (Kantor, 2010, para. 3).
    There are some ways to change negative reinforcement into a positive motivator. A manager should give the employee a warning, show consistency in disciplining employees, address behavioral issues and how to fix them, and reinforce the change by recognizing the improvement (Kantor, 2010, para.4).

    Kantor, J. (2010). KANTOR: How to motivate mediocre workers. Retrieved on March 19, 2013 from

    • Marsha, I think you have done a wonderful job. I also agree. Looking at the Opting Out discussion topic from Feb 25 many employees do view their careers or jobs as a means to pay their bills and buy material items. By encouraging workers and helping them achieve their goals it will produce more motivated employees. “The principle of recognition that “You get what you reward”
      is a universal yet often under-used principle in day-to-day management—and the training and development function is no exception” (Nelson, 2013, p. 1). As a whole I think employees could use more feedback instead of coming to the conclusion that their employees should be happy because they are employed during these rough times. Not only will employees benefit from feedback and make them feel needed and of value but the company will also benefit.
      Nelson, B. (2013). A Dose of Positive Reinforcement Can Go a Long Way. T+D, 67(3), 40-44.

  4. I personally look at mediocre job performance in a different perspective than fellow bloggers. I believe job performance is directly linked to the corporate culture of a company. Most people don’t think of culture; “it’s just how we do things around here” or the way things are here (Daft, 2012 p.75). How does an achievement based culture survive with mediocre job performance? If top-level management has implemented and effectively communicated top-level job performance expectations, anything less than top-level performance is unsatisfactory. Mediocre job performance is the result of low expectations from management and a poor cultural environment. According to Joseph Grenny, a New York Times bestselling author, “If your team was crystal clear on high performance expectations, mediocrity would be painfully apparent and you wouldn’t have to make a tough call when it came time to counsel or terminate.” Managers faced with mediocrity in the workplace must coach or counsel the employee, re-visit their performance at a later date, then replace or reassign if performance is not up to par.

    Daft, R. (2012). pg.75. Management. Mason, Ohio: South-Western.

    Grenny, J. (2009, March, 25). Addressing Mediocre Performance. Retrieved from:

  5. There is nothing wrong with being an average (mediocre) employee. Not everyone aspires to be in management. If the person meets the requirements of their current job, and they like the job and want to stay in the job, so be it. Stop trying to force people to get to the next level. The reality is that work is not the most important thing in everyone’s lives. I believe that most workers will agree with this quote. I have yet to find someone that would say in their jobs if they didn’t need to pay bills.

    Mediocre Employees: Are They Disengaged, or Just Role Players? John Hollon

    • There is something to what you say, Abdul. In our culture, we tend to emphasis social advancement and hierarchal achievement, which I agree is not the aspiration of everyone; however, I think the central question addressed by the posts above is what to do about an employee who is capable of performing at A level but only bothers to put in C level? Are they lazy or is it merely a bad job fit? As addressed by Leonard Schlesinger, “I find a lot of people paralyzed by their unhappiness with their current reality” (Gallo, 2013). One suggested question for if it is time to look for another job is whether you want your boss’s job, if not then it’s probably not a good fit. In response to your statement that “I have yet to find someone that would stay in their jobs if they didn’t need to pay bills”, when the fit is right I think many people would continue to work if they didn’t need to because they love what they do. I’d like to think I would.

      Gallo, A. (2013, January 30) Is it time to quit your job? Harvard Business Review [Web Log Post] Retrieved

  6. The origin of mediocre performance can stem from several different places in the workplace. For instance, if spending cuts are happening and people are losing their positions at random, employees may be working in fear and thinking no matter their performance level they could be cut at any time. Another source of mediocre performance could be managers not showing employees they are valued after a good or improved performance review. The idea that an employee could exceed expectations and not receive rewards or at the least, positive feedback could keep an employee from breaking through mediocre performance. James Manktelow, writer and President of “mind-tools”, created a simple formula for breaking through mediocre performance. “Perfomance= Ability X Motivation” He writes that if you can take care of the training and give that employee the aptitude and tools to succeed where you need them to, then you can produce the desire and commitment. (Manktelow, 2010).
    Simply setting performance goals and providing positive feedback can go a long way in improving mediocre performance in an organization.

  7. I think the central question addressed is what to do about an employee who is capable of performing at A level but only bothers to put in C level? Are they lazy or is it merely a bad job fit? As addressed by Leonard Schlesinger, “I find a lot of people paralyzed by their unhappiness with their current reality” (Gallo, 2013). One suggested question for if it is time to look for another job is whether you want your boss’s job, if not then it’s probably not a good fit.

    Gallo, A. (2013, January 30) Is it time to quit your job? Harvard Business Review [Web Log Post] Retrieved

  8. Bhatti (2007) generally defines employee participation as a process in which influence is shared among individuals who are other wise hierarchically unequal. Thus among superiors and subordinates. The paper makes the point that employees who participate in discussion and share some influence in decision making are more productive. I believe this is very much a true statement. When subordinates are involved in the decisions made their superiors they often feel like they are more highly valued. This sense of a higher purpose often propels them to work harder and also feel that in some way the job at hand is almost their own because they helped it to come to be. So by involving employees in decisions made for the company, it is possible to quell mediocrity in the workplace.

    Bhatti, Komal K. Impact of Employee Participation on Job Satisfaction, Employee Commitment and Employee Productivity. International Review of Business Research Papers, 2007.

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