The Opportunity Cost of Tolerance

March 28, 2013

“The first one gets the oyster, the second one gets the shell.” Andrew Carnegie

The Opportunity Cost of Tolerance
As a parent, I have a high standard for academic success. While schools may define failure as earning a grade of F in a course, my children know that dad defines failure as earning a lower grade then that child is capable of given a reasonable effort in the class. If they should have been able to earn a B, then a grade of C is a failure for that child. They have missed the mark.
I don’t often see businesses treating missing the mark as a failure, however. Production targets or delivery dates can be missed day-after-day. These shortfalls may even be charted and tracked. And yet, in many businesses, no genuine effort is made to address these failures, particularly if the business is still profitable. Everyone is aware of the problem, but no one is responsible for doing anything about it. Eventually the lack of performance becomes tolerated throughout the organization and accepted as normal. Even worse, performance or activities that would not have been acceptable in the past now don’t seem as bad as the tolerance for under-performance expands into new areas.
We don’t like to fail. Our employees don’t like to fail. We frequently will go to great lengths to rationalize why a failure really isn’t a failure. However, when that is tolerated, the failures do not become less frequent and performance does not rise to meet expectations. Instead, when we convince ourselves that there was no failure, we have no need to do anything differently – which leads to even more failure in the future.
Rather than sweeping failure under the rug, we need to bring it out into the light and use it to drive improvement. We need to learn from it and understand why it happened. We need to ask ourselves and our employees what we could have done differently to hit the mark. And we need to share what we learn and hold each other accountable to applying these lessons in the future so it is not repeated.

If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through…old Chinese saying.