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Edward Phillips

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Mediocrity Rules the Day
by Edward Phillips   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, May 22, 2015
Posted: Friday, May 22, 2015

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Mediocrity Rules the Day

I have observed a lot of incompetence invade the workplace. It is so widespread, in fact, I have often wondered how anything of substance ever gets done. I saw it first hand repeatedly in the military, but I could do very little about it. I recall at least 8 or 10 examples that would either shock you, or they would cast a dark shadow over my own credibility. I choose to take them to the grave with me. But I have also come upon quite a few examples of dolts at work in many other organizations. Incompetence is so widespread that others have given it names: The Peter Principle quickly comes to mind.

This term was coined by Lawrence Peter, an educator in Canada and in the United States. He became well known in he late 1960s on the publication of The Peter Principle, in which he states: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence ... in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties ... Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence." His point was that workers who perform well are often promoted to positions of more authority and responsibility. When they reach a level at which they do not or cannot perform well, they remain there—at their level of their incompetence. Let a few hundred people follow this pattern, and soon the entire organization is bogged down by those who can’t do their jobs. It’s the first thing I suspect when I hear about any kind of disaster or bungling on the job.

I have also noted how almost everyone in any organization wants to be promoted, incompetence notwithstanding. You know the bungling zealots, however, by their actions. They are hoarders of information. They believe they become more valuable when they know certain people, or how to operate certain machines, or they know about certain sources and methods that others know little about. They will not share any such information at all. Having qualified people that can perform in their absence becomes an issue whenever they are gone. When they return, they can shine by fixing the problem with their secret knowledge.

The cutthroats and backstabbers are those who are envious of others who can think better, who can perform better, can learn quicker, and who outshine them in many ways. Such backstabbers will jump at any opportunity to go behind the scene and accuse the star performers of wrong doing. Anonymous poison letters are one of their favorite tools. Firing the star performers when downsizing is also a common practice. This is often done simply by eliminating that high performer’s position.

Nearly everyone has his or her detractors or enemies on the job. The larger the organization the more pervasive the problem. Here are a few “tell tale” signs I’ve seen that indicate your boss or coworker on the job is the rat or at least the “weak link:” Let's say you offer a new idea, or a solution to an existing problem. It is summarily “shot down” by someone who offers this sage advice: “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Or, “The (senior person at the next level) will not go along with this, therefore let’s scuttle it now and save a lot of time and agony.” Six or eight weeks later your idea is the new norm, and guess who is receiving credit for the change?

Here are other examples that your company or organization is ruled by dishonesty: You don’t have an employment contract and are considered to be an employee “at will.” This means you can be fired any time for any reason or for no reason at all. State laws come into play about how far this concept can be used. Still, verbal agreements don’t mean much in the absence of an employment contract. When you are handed a standard employment agreement form, and you must take it or leave it, at least read it. It will almost certainly say you are an “at will” employee, and that every idea that enters your head after you sign the form belongs to the company. Unless you are starving, don’t sign it. Move on to a smaller company, or start your own if you can.

Another clause in that standard employment agreement is one that says you may not work anywhere else in a position that competes with your present employer when you leave. This often goes by the benign term “non-compete” clause. Don’t sign it unless you have been offered a million dollar annual salary that is guaranteed. When you are willing to work for low pay, and your boss wants all your ideas, and will not pay you for them, and you have also forfeited your right to work elsewhere in advance just because he hired you, then all is lost. You have been duped for life, and you just sold your soul for pennies.

I do not write from theory about such issues. I have lived them; I’ve been stabbed by them; and I’ve shed a lot of blood, sweat, and tears because of them. Fotunately, I was able to eventually start my own business. I did not make millions, but I liked the boss, I supported him in every way, and I blamed him and praised him whenever it pleased me to do so. We retired together and took out the rest of our frustrations on the world by turning to a gentler, kinder activity…to writing. It isn’t free, but the boss is reasonable.


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Reviewed by Ronald Hull 5/23/2015
As usual, a very informative and factual article. I too, recalling going to college with deadhead beer drinkers as classmates who often felt that cheating was better than studying, and then graduated, most of them becoming schoolteachers.

Actually, I found, in spite of its faults, corporate work to be better than where I spent most of my career, higher education. I found that the only way I could function was to ignore the thought of promotion, do almost everything myself, and ignore the backstabbing in favor of providing information and advice whenever possible. We had so many people promoted to managerial ranks who were later summarily fired. It was a revolving door of mediocrity and incompetence. It's so wonderful to be retired and my own boss like you.

Reviewed by J. Quantaman 5/22/2015
Good advice. For most of my life, I've steered away from office politics, preferring the lone-wolf approach. 35 years ago I spent two years in the US Army. Here are my thoughts about that.
The finest army the world has ever known was that enlisted by Julius Caesar. Before a battle he gathered the 1st-swords (Sergeant Majors) and cohort centurions (Staff Sergeants), and told them his strategic plans. The top NCOs carried the message to their respective century Sergeants. As often as not he disregarded his aristocratic colleagues who got but titular commands of various legions. I count three levels of hierarchy from Caesar to the rankers. The US Army has more than 35 levels from PROTUS down to the lowly E2s. Worse, the CIA skews the chain of command until it looks like the Mississippi down near the delta, so the best ideas are often waylaid in stagnant bayous. What the modern military needs is to fire every officer of rank higher than 1st-leutenant. If PROTUS wants to act as commander & chief, he better do his or her homework. In other words, we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Or too many couch potatoes that bank the ranch on dubious technologies.
Reviewed by Lark Pogue 5/22/2015
You just described the last company I worked for, which fortunately was finally closed down by the government. I won't call it justice, as it made tons of money for 20 years before it happened. I also think the government is a prime example of what you described.
Reviewed by Jane Noponen Perinacci 5/22/2015
Oh!!!!!!!!! You hit a nerve! I have been stabbed in the back a couple of times. For some reason I am always shocked that the person who did it did it!!! Hey! Karma!!!!!!!!!Sweet Karma will come back and bite them bitches in the ass! LOL!

Love ya!


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