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95% is NOT a Passing Grade

by Bill Flury

Graduation Preparation

Graduation time was approaching, and the principal of the high school was speaking to an assembly program of seniors. His topic today was future grading systems. He told the seniors that they would likely find the grading system quite different after they left school and joined the world of work.

He reviewed the present grading scheme where 95-100 = A, and 85-94 = B, and 75-84 = C.

Then, he pointed out that next year this was going to change for them. The new rules would be that anything less than 100% would be considered a failure. Only 100% would rate as ‘A” and there would be no other grades.

Then, he waited for a stunned silence followed by a lot of short, whispered exchanges. Inevitably, somebody would ask, “What do you mean?  We won’t be getting report cards after we get out of school, will we?”

Reality Sets In

That question, variously stated, provided the opening he wanted. He used it to lay out reality in terms that every one of those graduating seniors could clearly understand. He would point out that graduates turned workers would, indeed, be getting a report card every day. For example, if you were working as a secretary after graduation, could not reply to your concerned boss, “But I spelled 95% of the words in every letter correctly today.” (After all, 95% in school is a passing grade in spelling.) If you were employed as a bookkeeper you could not say, “I got the correct balance 95% of the time today.” Or, if you were working as a truck driver, you would probably not have to come to work tomorrow if you told your boss that you successfully avoided only 95% of all of the other vehicles on the road today.

The first two examples usually fired up the students’ interest because they knew they would be doing things like this soon. Still, since they had not yet done these things they thought that they might be allowed a few honest errors. The driving example really hit hard though, because every one of them had already driven a car and realized full well that 100% was the minimum passing grade for driving.

Today’s Report Card

Many years have gone by since I first heard that speech, but there has been no change in the grading scheme for post-school life and work. In fact, it has become more difficult and more important to achieve the top grade. Our highways are more crowded. Speeds are faster, reducing the tolerance for errors on the freeway. Our computer systems multiply human efforts a million-fold. Tiny errors in the design or programming can produce gigantic disasters. In our complex business systems, accumulations of small errors can lead to the buildup of major strains which can topple giant corporations and bend the economy to the breaking point.

In the ” ‘Readin, ‘Ritin and ‘Rithmetic” of today’s business we have to demand grades of 100%. Anything less will be hard to accept. If your company’s 24/7 computer system only scores 98 % (equal to an A minus) the system will be down 14 Hours, 24 Minutes each month. That’s almost 29 minutes a day. Can you live with that?

If the airline reservation system you are calling scores a low A-minus (95%) it will not be available 5% of the time. Don’t call during the day and a half each month that it’s not available. And let’s not talk about parachutes, scuba systems, surgery robots, collision avoidance systems and all the other inventions of the modern world. They all require the very top grade.

The goal of 100% is not an impossible dream. After all, it was always possible to get an “A” in school if we did all the work that was required and applied ourselves. But how many times did we really apply ourselves and how hard did we really try?

Process improvement programs that achieve zero defects (100% error-free) are achievable. Fail-safe systems that provide 100% up-time for vital services such as 911 are being built. These are being done by people who study the problems, learn about the techniques and tools, do their homework, and apply themselves to the tasks at hand. They are getting straight As.

What will be on your report card?


This article is based on a talk my father, a high school principal, gave to graduating seniors about to enter the working world. He considered this as his last chance to teach a vital lesson. His students have done well in later years and the lesson he taught them is even more appropriate today than it was then.


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1 reply
  1. Anshul Pandya
    Anshul Pandya says:

    A thought-provoking article indeed. We all have to strive to do better and importantly be better. Let me present a bit of a different perspective. Firstly, humans brains have evolved to focus on the big picture and not on nitty-gritty or minute details. I can provide references from evolutionary biology research to support this claim. Focusing on details is the key to avoid mistakes but that places a lot of strain on our brain leading to fatigue. Repeated straining the brain can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety depression loss of focus etc. Obviously, this does not happen to everyone. People are different. Some cope with the demands placed on them while others cannot. Some successful people who work hard face problems in personal lives. Other successful people who work had then go out and party hard to compensate for the stress and some time fall prey to substance abuse and addiction.
    The quest for excellence is not the problem but there has to be room if one fails to achieve 100%. Besides no one can achieve a 100% in everything they do.
    In the corporate culture prevailing today, there seems to a rat race. Companies focus on growth, individuals focus on achieving a 100%. Perhaps we all need to learn from the Zen Buddhist monks who pursue peace and not a 100% of everything.

    Reply

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