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Not sure what was in the water last week, but I ended up having several conversations regarding our TaskTeacher grading tool (a patented software that measures ISM/BDC performance), and how the grades are justified. As always, I’m happy to have a discussion regarding an individual’s performance. I truly value the feedback, and treat every objection as a way to learn how to improve the service. After discussing it with some friends at a Christmas party, I had one of those moments of clarity, best demonstrated in Fox’s now-defunct show, House.
Student grading varies widely from state to state, and district to district, for that matter. For instance, some schools will not give students an F grade. Other schools, use a 5.0 grading scale. One of the few common threads is classifying “average” (normally a C mark), “above average” (B or better), and “below average” (anything less than a C). Points, pluses, minuses, “A”s, “N”s, and “U”s vary widely from there. It was during this discussion of variance that the House moment hit me: an A+ is not a grade at all, but a mark of distinction.
No matter what industry you work in, some people are going to perform as expected, a few will perform worse than expected, and a smaller few will perform better than expected. In factories, most will just make their rate, even if it means slowing down throughout the day. Many retailers will have the lights off, and the doors locked, one minute before closing. Try calling your doctor’s office five minutes before they close. You’ll probably get the answering service, or worse yet, go straight to voicemail. We live in a world of average.
Most of us are content with average. Sticking with the education analogies, based on 2010 census data (round numbers), only 30% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree. One in three of those people have a master’s degree. One in thirty of those people have a doctorate (<1% of the total population). At some point in time, nearly all of us decide that “good enough” is good enough.
I can’t say we’ve all been guilty of settling, but I know I have been. I was an awful student in high school. I had to nearly 4.0 my last two years of school just so I could graduate with a 3.0 (the bare minimum to get into college). I was also guilty of mailing-it-in during undergrad. I was happy to take a "B" if attendance wasn’t required (which would’ve been an easy "A" if I showed up). I placed way too much value on my work and social life. I still graduated cum laude, and I know several people hated me for getting exceptional grades with half-assed effort. Sadly, the same trend continued into grad school. I can tell you I wish I tried harder then, but it’s too late to change that.
I’m sure many of us feel the same way. Whether it was school, sports, military service, or prior work experience, there is part of us that wishes we earned that mark of distinction. We lament the fact that we did not study, train, sweat, or sacrifice enough. Unfortunately, Doc Brown did not invent the Flux Capacitor. The past will always be the past.
The good news for all of us is the future is whatever we want it to be. This very second, you can be more than you are right now. You can get that promotion. You can get that bonus. You can be a better spouse. You can be a better parent. You can run a marathon. You don’t need to read books, listen to CDs,
or attend expensive conferences. You just need to commit to giving 100% everyday. Stop cutting corners. Better yet, stop letting others cut corners. Don’t wait for someone, or something, to tell you to do something you know you should already be doing.
No matter how you measure performance, don’t settle for average. Just because the bar is low, does not mean there isn’t a massive upside to achieving more. Set your own goals, achieve them, and then set higher ones. If you fall down, get back up again. Make a commitment to yourself, your clients, your team, and your family. The marks of distinction will come.
PS— This piece had several titles. Here are a few of them: