You are here because the title rings a bell. You think you know what I'm about to say but want the extra validation. You probably know someone who is a perfect mediocre, and you haven't fully acknowledged that. Let's unravel together the perfect mediocre archetype and see why it's dangerous to startups.
Every company has its top performers and low performers. They are easy to identify, and everyone knows who they are. Good managers will also let them know and help the low performers improve, or if needed, they will separate ways from them. On the other hand, they'll compensate the top performers and make sure they feel appreciated. The spectrum between the low and high performers is where it becomes challenging as a manager. And the hardest is what I'd like to call the perfect mediocre.
The perfect mediocre usually have their heart in the right place. They are motivated to help the company hit its goals and will dedicate their time and effort, but usually, everything they do is just not good enough. They can never do something without careful review by you or their peers. You know someone always needs to be there to hold their hand, or things will go south. You can't imagine them being promoted or growing within the company. But the fact that they're highly motivated makes you feel bad even thinking about firing them, so you try to help them and provide feedback.
They will appreciate any feedback you give them because, honestly, they want to be better and improve. But in reality, they have very little ability to improve, and over time, you'll notice the same things over and over. And this is where it gets dangerous. At this point, as a manager, you should identify the red flag. If you give someone feedback several times and they don't improve, there's a problem. Either they require more mentorship, or you need to let them go. Again, I understand the challenge here because this person usually has good relations with you, and they are highly motivated. This will make you consider that it's your fault and they need just a tiny bit of mentorship to improve. Unfortunately, they won't. Remember that whoever doesn't move you forward takes you backward. Not to mention the cultural impact and bad example they pose to other team members. And this is something startups and small companies can't allow.
At this point, you may wonder why I even bother writing this piece... Mainly because I want to increase awareness and help you identify this situation. The perfect mediocre is a low performer in disguise. You are just blinded by their high motivation. As managers, it's our responsibility to identify them and act accordingly. Good luck!