Good Work: Coming to Grips With Standards of Quality

A job worth doing is worth doing well.
When I was a superintendent, a group of 40 students ranging from six to eight years old asked me to visit their classroom for a presentation on quality.  One after another, teams of students described quality teachers, quality schools, and quality students.  Using Venn diagrams and web charts the students gave impressive presentations.  Quick to point out how their behavior affected others, the students reflected their teacher’s focus on personal responsibility.  The students had a clear picture of a quality environment and the behaviors and skills that produce quality.  But when pressed the children had difficulty describing quality outcomes.  I asked them “What does quality reading sound like?” and “What does quality writing look like?”  These were obviously a difficult question for young children, but like most adults their answers focused on activities rather than results.
By third grade, students begin to make more sophisticated comparisons of their work to examples of quality products (i.e. benchmarking).  My daughter’s third grade teacher required a quality work product.   She showed them examples of quality work in class and we tried to reinforce the idea at home.  The subject of quality work products became downright unpopular after the second draft of a report.
Most of us have someone that helped to create our first picture of quality.  For me it was a seventh grade English teacher that compared my work to examples of good writing, a father that required a manicured lawn, and a CFO that demanded clarity and accuracy in reports to the board.  Each in their own way helped to create an indelible life-long image of quality work product. Like the children I visited with, most adults are preoccupied with effort and activity rather than results.  When that image is internalized, you begin holding yourself to a high standard of performance even when it seems that others do what they can get by with.  While others are focused on minimizing effort, you will be maximizing results.
Business success requires that you produce the right products and services at the right price and be in the right place at the right time.  Quality is a given; it won’t ensure success but it’s absence will certainly ensure failure. There is one guarantee: quality work, and the quality effort that goes into it, is its own reward.  It is the feeling you get after you score a goal, play a beautiful piece of music, publish a great report, or make a compelling presentation.  Striving for excellence is its own reward.  The pride that the young students took in their quality presentations was obvious and well deserved–and a head start on coming to grips with standards of quality.
Good Work is a Sunday series focused on finding and doing mission-related work.  It started as a set of journal entries made while serving as a public school superintendent.  If you have a story about making a difference, we’d love to hear from you.  

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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