Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Raise Your Personal Standards

Successful businesses, and for that matter successful people, succeed because they set high standards for themselves. The standards at a five star restaurant aren't higher than a McDonalds, they are just directed toward different goals. As individuals, we should pay attention to our standards and work to raise them. If your standards are set to accept an average life, average is the best you can hope for.

In broad terms, standards exist to simplify interfaces, eliminate the need to rethink a problem, or to improve quality. The challenge is to make a standard useful, efficient, and effective. A standard is like a goal since it gives you something to achieve, and unlike one since you should achieve a standard continuously and / or consistently.

One area where society has effectively adopted many standards is electrical engineering. Everything from wall outlets to light sockets operates within well defined standards and tolerances. Electrical standards are examples of defined interfaces. If you plan to sell a gadget in the United States, you use an electrical standard that works in virtually every wall socket in the country. On a personal scale, a handshake is a widely accepted standard for greeting other people -- an interface between you and the person yhou are meeting.

Businesses operating in chains develop standards for the franchise. Allowing for tolerances, a Big Mac and small fries in Boston is difficult to tell from one in San Francisco. Buildings, products, procedures and policies are all standardized so decisions don't get remade and results are predictable.

If you walk into a WalMart, off to one side you'll see a bay of shopping carts. On the far side of the bay, you'll see that the wall is actually a garage door. As shopping carts are collected, they can be pushed through the open garage door so you can pull one out. Employees need to collect the carts, but this one standard minimizes that job. The long term benefit of reduced work overwhelms the cost of building the door. Including it as a standard part of building design also saves on time and effort.

Okay, it is unlikely that you will need to manage hundreds of shopping carts or anything else similar to a large retail outlet. Even so, here are some you might consider as you develop some personal standards.
  • I behave ethically and honestly in my dealings with others.
  • I seek win-win agreements when I negotiate.
  • When I make an appointment, I keep it and am on time for it.
  • I maintain a weight of ...
  • I keep my desk clean and orderly (one I need to work on).
Put another way, a standard is a measure of what you are willing to tolerate. You raise standards by being less tolerant of the chaos around you and more tolerant of the people around you. If you raise your standards, your life will improve. If you don't know what your standards are, it may be time to define them.







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