03/20/2014 12:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

We Accept Mediocrity (Friction Source #3)

The third source of friction and drag that may be destroying value in your organization, and exhausting you in the process is, we accept mediocrity. (Originally introduced in this blog; 'The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process').

Let's assume for a moment that you are very clear on your aspirations. Our research and practice has identified eleven levers that leaders can pull to get there. Five are so called 'hard' levers: strategy, scorecard, structure, systems and skills. Five are so called 'soft' levers: standards, strengths, story, symbols, and sustainability. The eleventh lever is leadership impact: this lever is as important as all the others combined: it acts like a handbrake or accelerator (I expand on this later).

Each of the 'S' levers is worth one point in our alignment model (though I have represented each lever out of ten in the graph below for visual impact). The leadership impact lever is worth ten points. So your alignment score is S10 x L1, which gives you an alignment score out of 100.

Below is the first measure of alignment for all of the companies in our data base. That is, the measure of how aligned each of the eleven levers is to the respective company's aspirations in the opinion of the organization's most senior leaders. As you can see, the average score for most levers hovers between six and seven, which is how we get to an average alignment score of 45 percent (S6.7 x L6.7 = 44.89 percent).

I recently conducted this same alignment measure in a room of 50 CEOs from multinational companies. The average alignment score across these 50 companies, from the broadest range of industries and sectors, was 43 percent. My guess is that your first measure would be pretty similar.

How can we complain about the marketplace or head office when we score, on average, six or seven across all of these levers? My provocation to you is that we are accepting mediocrity in our organizations.

Below is the 're-test' data for the companies in our database who have achieved transformation status; that is, a case study showing significant improvements across a range of metrics including financial performance, customer advocacy and employee commitment. As you can see, relatively small changes across each of the levers can add up to a pretty significant impact overall.

These organizations are led by people who have learned to dance with the chaos of today's world, professionally and personally. They have also raised standards for themselves and their colleagues; mediocrity is no longer accepted. These opportunities are available to all of us.