CommsMasters Blog

Keep Your Head Below the Parapet!

parapetIt's that time of year when bright young students head off to university to start their various degrees, bright young graduates enter the workforce to start their various careers, and oldies like me – and Financial Times columnist and author Lucy Kellaway – wonder where the years have gone since we, too, were all bright and shiny.

In this BBC News article, Kellaway shares a conversation she had recently with a graduate entrant in one organisation.

The latter suggested that mediocre people seemed to have risen to the top of his organisation; not a patch on the brilliant recent graduates – of which he was one, of course.

Kellaway agrees that, all too often, mediocrity seems to reign. She ponders whether the mediocre rise through the ranks, or whether rising through the ranks makes us mediocre.

It's getting close to three decades since I first pitched-up as an excited graduate entrant in the Financial Services sector – 5th September 1988 is a date I remember well. Smart suit, eager mind, keen as mustard.

And I remember so well the confusing message we got from the forty-something senior manager who welcomed us, the half-dozen graduate entrants in that particular Division.

She emphasised that the firm had gone to great time, trouble and expense to find us – the supposed 'cream of the crop'.

As such, we were to be separate and catch the attention of senior leaders – but do so inconspicuously, so that we wouldn't cause resentment amongst our non-graduate peers.

And we were to catch the attention of the senior leaders without rocking the boat or being controversial.

I understood the sentiment then and I understand it now – they didn't want a bunch of arrogant upstarts thinking they were above everyone else.

But the over-riding thing that struck home most – and was repeated many times during the remainder of that graduate training programme – was 'fade into the crowd'. Don't be – or even appear to be – better than the rest. Get noticed by fitting in and conforming.

The thing is, I think these messages – don't stand out, blend in with the crowd – are shared too often across businesses at all levels and at all stages of careers.

So I'm with Kellaway – we encourage mediocrity rather than excellence, especially in the way that we communicate.

Just notice today, in your workplace, how much encouragement people are given about being brilliant, innovative, different...

Then compare that with the number of messages they get about sticking with the crowd, or with the status quo.

What level of performance is your communication driving?

manage underperformance

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