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Making meritocracy work for your project team

Adeline Teoh ed.
February 2, 2015

Where does meritocracy stand in an age where equality has started to mean mediocrity? What are some of the drawbacks of treating everyone the same?

Equality has gone too far. Admittedly, there are many cases in which equality has not gone far enough but today I want to discuss the cases where equality has bred mediocrity and the sense that just being there is worth a reward.

You’ve heard about it. The running race where everyone gets a blue ribbon. The pass-the-parcel game where each unwrapping reveals a prize. By treating everyone as a winner regardless of effort or achievement, we’re letting children live in a fantasy world or setting them up for disappointment where their expectations are constantly dashed. Perhaps it’s both. But when you emphasise everything, you emphasise nothing.

I am putting in a case for rewarding the package of high performance and favourable outcomes. Don’t we want people to recognise the effort, behaviour and performance that leads to success? Then why reward undeserving people?

In my world, this is how a rewards system would pan out:

  • Acknowledgement of positive attitude and effort, performance and outcome.
  • If the reward is given for the achievement/s of a team, recognition of each team member’s contribution needs to be specific. Generic congratulations mean nothing.
  • If the reward is given for the achievement/s of an individual or individuals:
    —achievement needs to be explicit pertaining to the elements of attitude, effort, performance and outcome; that way, others understand that it’s not just about being gifted or lucky but the result of hard work;
    —others should provide input as to which of their peers deserve special recognition, making them part of the process.

Being transparent about merit will prevent negative discrimination and favouritism and promote true meritocracy while fending off an attitude of entitlement.

Have you ever rewarded someone undeserving? Were there any consequences?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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