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Eliminating Mediocrity

I was reading Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” and came across the story of George Cain when he became the CEO of Abbott Laboratories.  It’s noted in the book that Cain could not tolerate any form of mediocrity and that he, “set out to destroy one of the key causes of Abbott’s mediocrity: nepotism.”

The part of this story that draws my attention is the fact that he attacked the cause – nepotism.  Often times leaders and managers treat symptoms, we very rarely take the time or have the insight to find the underlying problem and even deeper root cause.  In my opinion the problem, symptom, cause framework for Abbott Laboratories looked like this:

Symptom = Abbott Laboratories wasn’t performing.  They were sitting at the bottom quartile in the pharmaceutical industry.

Problem = Mediocrity

Cause = Nepotism

By attacking and eliminating the cause, Cain turned things around.

The lesson we all can learn from Cain is you don’t eliminate mediocrity by attacking mediocrity. If mediocrity is a problem in your organization, you have to identify the symptoms and then attack and eliminate the root cause.

Here’s a brief list of some Causes of Mediocrity we’ve witnessed:

  1. Leaders who stay in position beyond their “time”.
  2. Lack of accountability among Board members, managers, and staff.
  3. Unwillingness to set and enforce performance expectations.
  4. Fear of conflict.
  5. Culture of Excuses.
  6. Lack of commitment to the core business.  Good at too many things, but great at none.
  7. Unwillingness to measure and report results.

Have you witnessed other causes of mediocrity?  Please add to the list.


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