By Francis Wade
Sunday, September 2, 2012.
Kingston, Jamaica- We
Jamaicans love high standards in many spheres of daily life and we like
to know that we are among the very best in the world. So, we accept
without question that a sound method for distinguishing high performance
in any field requires judgement that is strict, impartial and fair.
However, in our focus on achieving high standards we often miss an
is not only about striving to be the best; it's also about having a
critical mass of people who are willing to "enforce" high standards on
my last column (A bligh we should not give, July 15, 2012) I pointed
out that we don't confront each other when messages via email, text and
voice fail to get a reply. A few people responded to the column by
arguing that I didn't go far enough. They helped me see that we actually
don't like being the enforcers of high standards anywhere in life.
would much prefer to run the race than to be on the panel of judges. If
we could, we'd choose to earn the grade rather than mark the papers. We
argue for respect from each other, but wouldn't dream of telling
someone else when they have lost our respect. It's no accident that our
love of high standards translates into a love of competition, and this
works in our favour in a number of areas.
We do well in sports, and especially those that focus on individual performance.
addition, we have turned other areas like music and academic knowledge
into areas of hot competition — witness the fervour we have for sound
clashes in music, and Schools' Challenge, the GSAT and Spelling Bee in
are, however, areas of Jamaican life in which competition only makes
things worse. Running a company, governing a country and maintaining
peaceful communities are all clear examples where cooperation and
teamwork are much better techniques to use. In the office, the company
that pits employees against each other is one that will lose profits.
poor performance over the past decade is often attributed to its system
of forced ranking — adopted from outside — in which the bottom 15 per
cent are deemed to be failures and are forced to leave. In the
workplace, it's better to engender high standards for their own sake —
the very thing that we don't like to do.
reluctance results in managers that are too soft, or on the other hand,
too hard. Their inability to skilfully hold employees to account for
high standards leaves workers:
1. Demoralised when mediocre and superior performance become equalised;
2. Confused when unclear feedback becomes the norm; and
3. Angry when people believe they are being belittled.
contrast, the best high-school teachers I ever had were those who
maintained the highest standards. One teacher of physics and mathematics
was an ardent fan of the racetrack and taught us to emulate
'thoroughbreds' and not be like ordinary horses. Another teacher once
rejected a student's homework because it was messy, and asked him rather
pointedly: "Do you see me dressing to come to class like that?"
Obviously, these teachers weren't trained to say these things, but their consistent call for excellence makes them memorable.
Our workplaces need managers who can perform the same feat, but what's lacking is a reliable way to learn this skill.
companies fail to teach their managers how to relate to their employees
outside of the old and inappropriate parent-child and teacher-student
models, which are proving to be less effective than ever.
don't know what works for managers who want to hold employees to
account, but my sense is that it varies by company. To compound the
problem, we give managers very few opportunities to experiment with, and
learn, successful ways to confront employees.
firm needs to identify the behaviours that produce excellence. Research
tells us that videotaped feedback and frequent, repetitive simulations
can be used to train managers to learn these skills, but there are too
many managers who are simply satisfied to give an employee a book to
read while hoping for the best.
end result is performance that we all deem to be inadequate. The
achievement of high standards always requires good judges, referees and
umpires, but playing these roles in corporate Jamaica takes not only
skill, but courage too.
Francis Wade is a consultant with Framework Consulting. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org