Mid-year evaluations are just around the corner, and I’m starting to question the whole idea of what “above-average” performance means.
Every one of my peers would mortified to be graded at the mid-level, or horrors, below that. So we all wait for the performance score and breath sighs of relief. And once everyone has been grade, we all raise our coffee cops in a salute. We pulled it off, brothers and sisters in high achievement!
But if we are all above average — and so is everyone else — who occupies the middle? And who exactly is scraping the bottom. And then I think, “Am I fooling myself? Am I actually…average?”
Radio comic Garrison Keiller has told the joke hundreds of times about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
We might laugh about it, but deep down, in our own fictional towns, we think it’s true. Our children never deserve a C, our driving is better than every other driver, and we are simply smarter than everyone else out there.
Psychology calls this, “illusory superiority.” God calls it “pride.” And me? I just ask, “who do you think you are?”
The workplace is an intriguing study of self-evaluation, especially at performance review time. How many of us would rate ourselves in the lower echelon? We think we’re at least as good, if not better than every everyone else. In a Business Week survey, some interesting results came out about workplace esteem. When they asked managers “Are you one of the top 10 percent of performers in your company,” 90 percent of them said, “yes.”
Do the math and something doesn’t add up. Drilling down, the survey shows that 91 percent of men answered “yes,” as did 89 percent of women. Those over the age of 55 were the most confident, with 93 percent answering yes. Middle managers scored the “lowest” with a paltry 84 percent. It seems that managers have quite the elevated opinion of themselves. And I’m sure a poll of rank-and-file workers would show similar elevated results.
To be candid, we all work in Lake Wobegon. This kind of attitude is certainly not confined to the workplace. Honestly, most of us think we are pretty special in school, in our neighborhood and in our social circles. None of us are below average.
How much of that drives haughty attitudes? Does that untenable position makes us look down on others?
How would I act differently if I was really, just average?
Do we need a reality check?