What seems like about 100 years ago, I ran for the board of an exceedingly small school district and was elected by a majority of perhaps one. It was a woeful mistake for me, the district, and most of all for the kids, who like mine were eager to be the recipients of a first-class education. Unfortunately, we were all about to run headlong into the rollout of California’s behavioral objectives approach to education that has manifested itself in today’s “no failure” system, which seems to have taken root in other parts of the country as well.
Just this past several weeks, the State of Georgia’s education system has been rocked by back-to-back scandals, one involving the fabrication of student achievement records by an inordinate number of school officials, and another regarding the extraordinarily high failure rate of high school students on statewide math tests. Of course these could be isolated occurrences, but even if so, aren’t they symptomatic of a malaise brought about by not distinguishing between excellence and mediocrity…or worse?
The problem emanating from the “no failure” system is more than just one of degraded performance. Given the right circumstances, this can be remediated, but the underlying culprit—attitude—is harder to address. In the real world, the distinction between success and failure is critical, especially in construction, where the latter will inevitably lead to economic loss and possibly injury or death.
The best way for dealing with “no failure” applicants is to weed them out before you hire them. Then it’s important to set up a good probationary program where not only can you evaluate the performance and attitudes of your new hires, but can bring them into alignment with company standards…a process that requires honest appraisal; fair, swift, and impartial redress of failure; and positive response to achievement.
In the end, you want your employees to see themselves as partners in the company’s success. If the people who work for you can’t point to a completed project and say with a measure of pride, “You see that? That's my work,” they’re not getting one of the fundamental benefits of their chosen occupation, and you’re not getting the full return on your investment in them and your equipment.