Maintaining high standards

A post by Steve Pavlina yesterday caused me to think about the standards we set for ourselves and others we lead. Here’s my BLUF: you can’t fully succeed in life living off of expectations established by others.

When I say you can’t fully succeed, I’m not saying you’ll never amount to anything. I’m saying you’ll never reach your potential. You just won’t. We each come hardwired with certain talents, personalities, and abilities. We add to those (or at least, should be adding to those) as we grow and mature. So the question becomes: are you doing the most with what you have? Are you trying to see what you’ve got in you? Or are you content meandering through life? Giving up only bursts of focus and energy, but otherwise settling for a meandering stroll through life.

I think we need to consider our standards as both individual contributors and professionals and as managers.

Maintaining High Standards as a Manager

If you believe in your team, you set high standards and stick to them. Not unrealistic standards, of course, but high ones. Failure to set high expectations leads to failure to reach low expectations. Think about that. Every time you back off your previously established activity goals or performance levels, you send the message that they were unachievable to begin with, and you’re only now realizing that.

An extraordinary salesperson I once worked with, Tom Watkins, never cared about the tweaks our company made to his compensation plan. In fact, he specifically said, “Just tell me how I make the money and what percent I get, and I’ll do what I have to do to make what I want.” You may not have a Tom on your team, but unless you tap into that mentality, you’re hoping people will push themselves to achieve.

Think about what Terry Levine says: “You will feel better about yourself if you set high standards and stand by them. You will attract those who respect your standards and who have standards of their own. You won’t get anywhere by being someone’s doormat.”

You need to define company-recognized excellence and hold fast to that standard. You also need to publish what is acceptable level performance and hold fast to that, periodically reminding your people that it is “acceptable level” only. You will attract better candidates as word slowly spreads that your company is a tough place to work, but highly rewarding.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed that places with shifting levels of acceptable performance are also higher-turnover atmospheres as well.

Maintaining High Standards as an Individual Contributor

Okay, ignore everything I just told the managers. As an individual contributor, you need to know that there’s no honor in meeting others’ expectations. Exceeding them is where true satisfaction comes.

I really like what is said at this article at the Coachville knowledge center. Check out #4 in particular:

“Set rigorous standards for yourself. The words, ‘for yourself’ are critical here. So many people set their standards in relation to others or their work environment. If they perceive their employer to be fair, they set high standards. If, on the other hand, they see their employer as penurious, greedy, or mean, they allow their own standards to slip on the grounds that the employer ‘doesn’t deserve any better from me.’ If you’ve fallen into that trap, recognize that you’re only hurting yourself. To do less than your best ultimately means that your ‘best’ will deteriorate until you won’t be able to tell the difference between mediocrity and excellence. The ‘content’ of your standards depends on you.”

President Bush told educators back in 2002: “…if you have low standards, you’re going to get low results. If you set the bar low, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. You’re going to get mediocrity.”

As Steve puts it in his post: “Comparing yourself to other people is a waste of time. It’s only going to get you stuck in mediocrity. If you compare yourself to those who are much worse off than you, you’ll look like a king.” Where’s the fun, honor, satisfaction, pride, or accomplishment in mediocrity?

So I’m going to ask you to consider your perspective right now, today. What are you shooting for? Is it enough for you to accomplish your goals ahead of schedule, while maintaining your integrity and dignity?

standards, success

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