Our business lives are full of rhetoric like ‘give 110%’, ‘be the best’ or ‘leave it all on the table’. However, often our best falls well short of perfection.
This truth struck me this week while enjoying my favorite season of the year – hockey playoffs! They announcers were analyzing centers and the average amount of face-offs that they won over the full season. The 2014-15 face-off leader was Patrice Bergeron who won 60.2% of the time. Since only two people take a face-off, the base odds are 50/50. Therefore, I was surprised that the league’s best was only 10.2% ahead of the median players in the league! He is highly coveted because of this difference, something that seems insignificant at first glance.
If you are more of a baseball fan, a look at 2014’s final statistics reveals a similar pattern. Last year’s hitting leader, Jose Altuve, batted an average of .341 over the season (that means he hit 341 out of 1000 times at bat). The league average was .250. Therefore, by being .091 better than the rest of the league, less than a 10% lead, Altuve won the batting championship!
Organizations also win or lose by narrow margins. So what can athletes teach us about our goal of excellence?
Perfection is unattainable (see Pobody’s Nerfect). The best does not mean 100%. While every job and occupation has different ways to measure excellence, we need to set a realistic bar. Some of you who read this are bosses who set an unrealistic bar. If this is the case, you need to evaluate this carefully. If your coach required you to make 100% of face-offs or bat .500 you would look to play elsewhere. What motivates you to create goals which will eventually demotivate your employees?
Success requires failure. The examples above embrace failure. It is said that the most successful companies have cultures which endorse failure. This is because if you are not failing, you are not trying anything new. How do you encourage your staff to fail well?
Narrow victories require exceptional effort. For the Bergeron’s and Altuva’s to win by gaps of less than 10%, they have put in exceptional amounts of work. While the victories are narrow, the amount of work to rise above average is not. Abolishing perfectionism and embracing failure does not give us permission to accept mediocrity.
Excellence is attainable but it has a demanding recipe:
It embraces imperfection.
It requires failure.
It always demands exceptional effort.
Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman