Raising the bar

I want to talk a little bit about performance, about achievement, about success. I want to talk a little bit about work, about education, about life. The reality is, that if I hit 0.0001% of the issues that I want to talk about, I’ll have done a good job. Because these things are complex, they are interlinked and intrinsically entwined with a myriad of other issues.

But everything starts somewhere.  So let us consider this the somewhere of starts.

We constantly talk about “raising the bar”. The phrase in itself, so well accepted that we seldom consider its meaning. We all need to raise the bar and then we ail have sorted all of the issues that we have in society. Once the bar is raised all will be well.

Children will be educated, the unemployed will become employed, families will become more functional and businesses more community  minded. The bar has been raised and thus we will respond with vim and vigour and our collective efforts will see us prevail.

The other day they raised the bar on childbirth, they also raised it on disco dancing, knitting and sky diving.  Overnight, I suddenly became so much better at all of these things.

It is amazing what a bar can do. Suddenly, my learning preferences, my intellectual capability, the source of information and the quality of my education increased exponentially. They were directly connected to the bar.

But, as you know, this is bullshit.

We can focus on outputs as much as we like, but unless we focus on the inputs as well, we’re just deluding ourselves. Success is measured by outputs, but is created by inputs. And yet bizarrely we so often want to drive the former by reducing the latter.

Performance isn’t driven by hard targets. Success isn’t created by defining KPIs. Raising the bar will deliver success as quickly as increasing the tempo will help me to dance better. Or a population target will help me to give birth.

Performance, success, organisational alignment are all complex issues. If you want a better organisation, if you want a better society, if we want a better world, we need to understand the systemic nature of our existence and ignore the simplicity of readily acceptable statements.

So as our educational system will not be redefined by measuring it in another way, your organisation will not improve because you’ve set a new bunch of KPIs. And you won’t lose weight just because you’ve bought a smaller pair of jeans.

And as for me….I think my birthing days are beyond me. But maybe….if we just raise that bar. Hell…..well, you never know……


  1. Rick · June 17, 2013

    “Success is measured by outputs, but is created by inputs.” i like that. It’s similar to the old farming analogy; you don’t fatten the beast by weighing it.

    What’s this stuff about childbirth targets?

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      I like that. It was a nod and a wink the Royal baby….

  2. Doug Shaw · June 17, 2013

    I get it – and in a similar vain re: complexity, I’m currently enjoying reading Adapt by Tim Harford, recommended. And yet some stuff is simple, scarily so, and while raising the bar sucks, I think there are plenty of ordinary, little things we can and should do in order to be the oil in the machine rather than the chewing gum on the shoe.

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      The oil in the machine, not the stick in the spokes. Someone really clever came up with that…..oh wait…..that was us!

  3. designtwit · June 18, 2013

    Love this thoughtful post. Question Neil… what do we do with leadership that does not get everyone’s bar is different? And What if our starting point to raise it is different? We are showing progress to raise it. But, it may never be raised as much as our boss wants it. How can we still celebrate progress without always seeing our organization as a failure? Amazing what a deck of cards performance can be.

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      Great thoughts…..yes. There is a continuous improvement theme in there.

  4. Danny Kitchener · June 25, 2013

    Well said Neil. All too often in sales, targets get raised by the board with only profits in mind, not resources or “input”.

    3 question I always like to ask Sales Directors are;
    1. On a scale of 1 – 10 how important are new sales to your business’s success?
    (1 being not at all & 10 being very)
    2. How hard is it to obtain new sales?
    (1 being not at all & 10 being very)
    3. How much resource do you spend improving the way your sales team sell?
    (1 being none at all & 10 being every waking minute)

    The 3 answers I usually get are never in a line!

    • Neil · July 23, 2013

      I can imagine. Great questions.

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