We are at war.
Mediocrity is winning so far.
I went shopping for shoes in one of those stores that advertises designer shoes at discount prices. I asked a mature looking woman wearing a store ID badge what happened to all the Brannock devices they used to have in every aisle. Blank stare… an unusual reaction for someone managing a shoe store. That may not be a common word to many people, but it’s like asking a writer about a keyboard. Is it any wonder that the shoe salesperson has become the prime example of jokes about incompetence, suggesting visions of Al Bundy characters with bad attitudes? Shoe sizes are important to overall health as the wrong size can cause skeletal problems, joint pain, and even blisters. Today the standard sales paradigm is to promote “This is what we have to sell” instead of “This is what you want and need.” Size D width for men is all you find on display shelves because average is good enough even if you do happen to need narrow or wide sizes. The conspiracy theorist living in my brain tells me this is the reason they don’t want you to know what size truly fits.
But it’s not just about selling shoes.
Look around at hundreds of other examples of mediocre attitudes that are pervasive in our daily lives. We have to go no further than where we work to see it in action. Despite claiming: “We only hire the best and brightest!” there is an unspoken alternate reality that it may be more cost effective to hire someone who simply applies for a position than to seek out a perfect cultural match or someone with proven problem-solving prowess. Like loose fitting shoes, a wrong hire can injure an organization and cause pain to the business and the other employees who have to pick up the slack. The eventual surgery to correct the organizational deformity not only removes the bad employee, it also leaves a visible scar and may create permanent damage to the employment brand, a.k.a. the company reputation. Studies have shown that the cost of firing and rehiring is greater than getting it right the first time. Doesn’t anybody care about that?
But this is not a lesson we learn, apply, and remember.
It isn’t corporate recruiters, human resources, or even company managers that create situations of hiring misfits. The problem is much worse than that. It’s a matter of everyone caving in to acceptance of societal norms that believe “good enough” is a benchmark of success. On the other side of the hiring dilemma, we see people making career choices that tend toward the status quo without looking beyond known horizons. Thinking outside the box has become more of a motivational poster theme than a mindset. How many times have you heard people who are blatantly dissatisfied with their current employment express concern about leaving their comfort zone? How many job seekers have you heard saying they will take anything offered as long as it’s a job and not what they are doing now. Fear and desperation prevent us from escaping the gravity of mediocrity and finding our best.
But if you want to give up completely, place more value on money than people.
Third party recruiters can choose to make money the old-fashioned way by hard work, or by spamming so many job seekers and companies that the process gets murky and the whole field gets a tarnished reputation. Hawking jobs to people who are marginally qualified reeks of mediocrity. Earning a living is not a bad thing. Making lots of money is a good thing. Dehumanizing those who are touched by the effort says something about the depth of the mediocrity of the individual doing it. Painting a broad brush picture of the search and hire industry should reveal some true leaning toward excellence instead of just enough to get by. Our parents tell us that a D average in school is not good enough, so where did we get the idea that good enough to pass is enough? Could we be complaining too much that the bar is set too high rather than aspiring to find better ways?
But even with help we only seem to set goals that are the easiest to reach.
Technology is a big factor in allowing us to raise the bar if we choose to do it. Artificial Intelligence will someday be ready to aid us in improving our lives, but often that which claims to be artificial thinking is an automation tool with a speedier way to process buzzwords for robotic decision making. Some companies are making real inroads in working out the bugs toward true AI. Unfortunately, many more are jumping on this “better mousetrap” bandwagon to peddle solutions that only allow us to keep making the same mistakes faster than we were able to do it before. The key to recruitment and human resources systems is to look for products that improve the lives of everyone involved. Selling or buying an off-the-shelf vanilla package with a one-size-fits-all mentality will be mediocre at best.
But can we do better? Wouldn’t that mean a total paradigm shift away from our current way of thinking? Polishing up our mediocrity only gives us shining mediocrity. Not losing is not the same as winning.
Photo credit: © The Brannock Device Company