Stop Celebrating Mediocrity, Start Elevating Performance

At the start of 2018, a middle-aged man named Steve joined a weight loss competition hosted by his company. As a significantly obese man, Steve knew he needed to get healthy and believed that joining the competition would instill motivation. In total, over 100 participants from 4 departments joined the 12-week contest to lose weight and get in better shape.

To encourage participants, weekly weigh-ins took place, with the individual who lost the most weight during that week receiving a prize. The contest was set up so that the cumulative total weight lost by participants was not important. Individuals were judged solely on how much weight they lost during that week. The leaders of the contest stated that the contest was set up like that so people wouldn’t become discouraged if they weren’t doing well.

This flawed concept became evident when Steve was awarded the prize for losing the most weight during the fifth week of the competition. During that week, Steve lost 6 pounds. This could have been seen as a great week for Steve, but he was actually 1 pound heavier than when the contest started. In spite of this, he was still awarded the prize.

This hollow victory meant nothing to Steve. The following week, he put 4 pounds back on. Fast-forwarding to the end, Steve gained 5 pounds during the 12-week competition. He never came close to reaching his goal of being 20 pounds lighter than when the contest started.

Rather than focusing on celebrating exceptional results, the leaders of the competition gave out prizes to people even when their results were subpar. This resulted in 75% of contestants either gaining weight or staying the same.

Six months later, due to a health scare, Steve was once again interested in losing weight. This time it was different. His health had deteriorated so much his very well-being was at stake. No hollow victories would do for this go around. The very essence of his ability to live a normal life was the prize. Not surprisingly, results were much different. In one year, Steve lost over 100 pounds.

The interest in achieving exceptional results only occurs when there is something worth chasing after. Lowering the bar does not instill more motivation, it pushes people toward apathy. There is clearly a difference between losing weight and achieving superior business results, but the core concept remains intact. People are motivated to produce results when they are challenged to work hard and there are legitimate rewards at stake.

Stop building around fake successes and irrelevant metrics. Pandering to the lowest common denominator instills a sense of complacency.

Participation trophies that are undeserved reduce the value of true success. Enabling people to coast through the day causes reduction in productivity.

To be successful, you must hold people to standards that elevate performance. Every time mediocrity is celebrated, it pushes people away from reaching their full potential. Conversely, holding a high standard of excellence forces people to not only put forth considerable effort but also requires them to deliver results. Individuals can no longer revel in comfort and complacency and expect to be rewarded. Instead, they must generate value.

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