Business Career Communications — 14 November 2012
10 ways you can avoid corporate mediocrity

One of my favourite blog posts is by Richard Sauerman, titled ‘The Recipe for Corporate Mediocrity’. It details a scenario involving 5 monkeys in a cage as they each climb a staircase to attain a shiny yellow banana hanging from the roof by a piece of string. Through the ongoing negative reinforcement of positive behaviours amongst existing and new monkeys to the group, they eventually turn on each other because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done around here’.

I’m sure many of you can relate to the scenario. Perhaps you work somewhere where this is the norm, or you’ve seen glimpses of it. Hopefully you’re in an organisation where you and your team’s efforts to climb the ladder are supported and encouraged. Most recently I discussed this experiment with a new-ish team who are part of an organisation undergoing significant amounts of change within a culture that, for many reasons, can appear to be rooted in a (albeit changing) cycle of blocking/rejecting a different lens through which to view the business. Why? Because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done around here’.

So imagine you’re a new employee with this organisation. Unlike the monkeys, you’re not so much sprayed with ice cold water, but rather become immersed in an environment and culture where challenging the establishment, the way things are done and how business is viewed can often have unconventional ramifications. Your ability, vision, ideas, enthusiasm, determination, standards and professionalism are your currency and must be protected if you are to succeed. But how do you keep yourself safe from falling foul to the other monkeys in the cage as you try to reach that elusive yellow banana dangling from the ceiling?

Here are my top 10 for keeping the integrity with which you started.
  1. Never lose sight of the big picture
  2. Keep the end goal in sight
  3. Remind yourself why you were employed in the first place
  4. Compromise, but only if you truly believe it’s the right solution
  5. Don’t accept mediocrity
  6. With difficult colleagues, address their behaviour, not them personally
  7. Take the time to normalise your situation – speak to others in business and share your experiences
  8. Find a way to measure the small wins – you will feel better knowing things are moving ahead
  9. Retain your status as ‘Switzerland’ – be the person people feel they can talk to confidentially
  10. Constantly reevaluate your situation and retain your integrity, good humour and sense of self

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(6) Readers Comments

  1. What an inspiring article, and timely too. Most organisations are facing transformational change as the net makes us global which also makes us vulnerable to global economic instability. We need to change whether we like it or not, so being open and adaptive to change can bring positive results rather than being disruptive.

    Some of the barriers to change can be like you say “that’s the way it’s always been done around here”. Convincing stakeholders that change can be worthwhile and profitable is the key. When User Experience professionals isolate pain points in a customer experience, that is usually traced to inefficient internal systems. Persuading stakeholders about the value of customer research helps implement change, and hopefully inspires a culture of integrity. Co-design methods encourage free thinking and collaboration because in the initial stages there is no wrong answer.

    Here is a new book that explains some of the disciplines;
    http://blogs.forrester.com/kerry_bodine/12-05-22-outside_in_the_power_of_putting_customers_at_the_center_of_your_business

    My name is Craig, I often design for UX professionals to aid their presentations to stakeholders. Infographics and videos are my tools of choice.

    • Hi Craig

      Thanks for you comments and book recommendation. I agree wholeheartedly that co design and collaboration are key and in fact am going through this process in reviewing a company brand from the inside out to build alignment with with EVP and CVP. It’s a very powerful way of providing many voices with the opportunity to be part of the process and ultimate outcome.

      Very best, Matt.

  2. Good article – best thing I did was read a book called ‘Re-Work’ by Jason Fried (from 37Signals). Talk about refreshing. And I dont normally read business books either, they are so boring!

    I have no association with the company or author at all – just wanted to share a worthwhile ‘easy read’ business book http://37signals.com/rework

  3. Brilliant. Great advice to take into the new year – thanks

  4. Pingback: 20 ideas for content that people love to share on social media, Digital

  5. Pingback: The grinding banality of sameness, Uncategorized

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