“When all else fails, lower your standards” used to be a joke. Today, it’s how most people are running their lives and their businesses.
Earlier this year, a scoring committee that reports to the New York Board of Regents (the group responsible for the general supervision of all educational activities within the state) said the state must lower its passing grade for all students in Grades 3 through 8 after some schools posted shockingly poor results this last school year.
In the city of Schenectady, NY, no eighth grader who took the math test scored proficient. Further, the overall test scores of all third through eighth graders were down significantly across the state. One of the committee members said, “We’re at this new normal. So, for New York, we are saying the new baseline is 2022.” If I was a parent in New York, I’d be IRATE. Their “solution” to the problem of kids being unable to read, write and perform mathematics at grade level is to lower the bar? It’s the new way of playing darts. You throw the dart anywhere on the wall and then go draw a bull’s-eye around it. Why make darts difficult to win through practice and skill. Where’s the fun in that? Come on, man.
Restaurants are posting signs asking for forgiveness for their terrible service in advance, stating they are short-staffed, unable to find good people who want to work. All home-service businesses and builders are struggling to maintain quality and deadlines for the same reason. If you talk to them, it’s not just finding people to work – it’s finding people to work who also have high standards for their work and personal performance. People who will actually show up on time and consistently do a great job. A colleague of mine cannot find good workers because most can’t pass a drug test.
It’s all part of a burgeoning and very scary trend infesting our society at large and, as a subsequent result, many businesses: the death of personal responsibility and disdain for high standards.
Many advertisers of fitness, weight loss, clothing, etc., have been shamed and in some cases legally blocked from using thin, fit, beautiful women in their ads to sell their products. The term “impossible standards” is used to describe these women – not high standards. As Twain famously said, there’s nothing more annoying than a good example. I personally like to see very fit women. It motivates me. But I guess my opinion doesn’t count?
But now it’s not just removing these “offensive” images. Cosmopolitan magazine in the UK recently featured a clearly obese woman on their cover with the headline “This Is Healthy,” attempting to sell the readers on the fact that wellness doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all. While I’m absolutely against fat-shaming anyone overweight, I’m also completely against the ongoing movement to sell women on the idea that being overweight is healthy – it’s absolutely NOT. Fifty to one hundred pounds overweight is now healthy? Where are the fake-news police now?
As a business owner, I’m often frustrated and challenged in my efforts to ensure HIGH standards on the work we deliver. Early on, when I didn’t know how to hire good people and lead and manage them, I dealt with this a LOT. Not as much today. I’m sure you, like me, know that behind your back you are sneered at and despised by some employees who feel your “impossible standards” are purely selfish and “out of touch” with reality. Nuts.
The best businesses are run by intolerant dictators who enforce high standards, rules, accountability and real-time scorekeeping of critical KPIs and metrics. Perfectionists are given a bad name and made fun of UNTIL the person doing the mocking needs someone to perform a critical surgery on them or fly the plane they are on—THEN they demand perfection.
As a business owner, you WILL be pressured into lowering your standards by those who want to drag their feet, not work too hard and shun responsibility. They will try to wear you down to the point where you want to give up or give in, but it’s critical that you hold the line and NOT lower your standards to meet their poor performance. The best things you can do are 1) pay more for better people, and 2) fire all the duds fast. You truly get what you tolerate.