Raise the standard; rise to the standard

How are you measuring your results?  Is it time to tweak the standard?  Sometimes to achieve your goals, all you need to do is to change your attitude about what it takes to get there.  Prevailing wisdom asserts that if you raise the standard, you’ll rise to the standard.

On the flip side, a friend of mine recently remarked about the fiscal bar her company sets annually.  She was questioning if this ever-increasing standard is in the best interests of all concerned.  I have to agree that there can be a kind of madness in the way many corporations push for increased productivity without adjusting the pressure valve.  However, there are some instances where raising the bar is very much in order.  For example, we want the military, which is constitutionally sworn to protect us, to rise to the standard no matter what it takes.

Long before he served as Commander-in-Chief (now known as "Combatant Commander") of U.S. Central Command and commander of the Coalition Forces in The Gulf War (August 1990-February 1991), General H. Norman Schwarzkopf found himself assigned to the US Army base in Mainz, Germany.  When Schwarzkopf retired, he held the highest rank in the US Army, that of four-star general, but back in 1980 at Mainz, he was still only a brigadier general.  At Mainz, one of his command areas involved maintenance.  His commanding officer, Major General Bill Livsey, tasked him with raising the level of combat readiness of the Aviation Battalion.  Schwarzkopf did some quick manual reading and found out that in order to be fully combat-ready (C1 status), the battalion had to have 75% of its helicopters flying every day.  He then interviewed the airfield staff and learned that they thought the standard was 70%.  Bingo!

From General Schwarzkopf’s memoir, It Doesn’t Take A Hero:

"I said to the battalion commander, ‘We’re changing the standard.  Don’t let your troops talk about seventy percent anymore.  I want you to shoot for seventy-five percent.  The only standard we’re interested in in this division is combat readiness.’  His initial reaction was that maintaining even seventy percent had been difficult.  But in less than a month he had his unit operating at C1.

"Livsey thought I was Albert Einstein.  He imagined that I’d delved deep into the maintenance practices of the Aviation Battalion, uncovered some subtle error in the way our technicians were adjusting the turbines or some such, and taught them how to do their jobs right.  When I confessed that all I’d actually done was raise the passing grade, he laughed."

Schwarzkopf’s solution proved that axiom so aptly put by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:  “If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it; every arrow that flies feels the attraction of earth." 

So next time you feel like you’re not operating at C1, consider the option that if you raise the standard, you’ll rise to the standard.  After all, we humans have way more capacity than we’ve ever imagined!

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