When Excellence Gets Punished

Published: October 23, 2015

If the norm is mediocre, average performance will always be good enough. Good enough is sufficient in many endeavors. Some commitments, however, require a devotion to excellence and continuous improvement. Elevating good to great and great to greater taxes the system before it fuels. It’s easier not to stretch yourself when the immediate reward is not visible. In a culture that prefers good, great is a threat. Consider these ways excellence gets punished:

  • Tolerance of oppression (bullying)
  • Misalignment with team vision
  • Intolerance for diversity
  • Fear of conflict
  • Resistance to growth
  • Unwillingness to change
  • Getting stuck in the past

Each of these dynamics prevents a team from moving through the normal cycles of development. They protect the status quo and insulate sameness. In the short run, teammates feel safe. In the long run, they become stagnant.

Punishing excellence is a form of active disengagement. Gallup data tells us that every organization has about 20% of its workforce practicing some form of disengagement either actively or passively. The data also reminds us that most organizations have about 30% of their employees who would run through a wall for the team. To which group should we bestow power?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.