On High Standards (Part 2)

Yesterday, I shared two takeaways related to high standards based on a few recent podcasts.

  1. It’s okay to have high standards and to hold people to them.
  2. A prerequisite is to hold yourself to an even higher set of standards.

On Facebook, a friend pointed out an important missing piece—people are human. I think it’s worth expanding on this point quite a bit. Otherwise, one might assume that it’s okay to set a sky-high bar and act like a tyrant driving people in that direction giving no slack or breathing room for adjustments.

Let’s all agree that’s not ideal.

Here are a few additional caveats to the above takeaways:

These high standards should be developed alongside the people that will be upholding them in service of a goal we all agree on. When a team has a voice in setting the goals, they feel far more ownership than if the goals were just passed down the chain.

How you deal with failure matters. In Measure What Matters, John Doer talks about the OKR framework Google and other teams use for setting goals. They assume a 70-80% completion rate. If a team completes 100% of their work for a quarter, the goals weren’t ambitious enough.

A team/individual falling short of a goal or a standard is a critical inflection point. If you drop the hammer, it’s understood that falling short is not acceptable, and teammates will be reluctant to stretch in the future. As Steven Pressfield notes, compassion is an unlimited resource.

Extreme ownership applies here too. When a team member falls short, it’s not their fault. It’s your fault. You could’ve checked in with them earlier. You could’ve explained the goal in better detail. You could’ve offered to chip in.

With those caveats in mind, here’s how I would expand the original two takeaways:

  1. It’s okay to have high standards and to hold people to them. This works when the standards are defined alongside the people upholding them in service to a goal everyone agrees on.
  2. When people fall short, remember compassion is an unlimited resource. Don’t blame them; own the situation.
  3. A prerequisite to holding others to a high standard is to hold yourself to an even higher set of standards.

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