The Good Enough Mentality and Why it IS Good Enough

In Building High Performance Work Teams by Jane Boucher, the author cites a popular training list that shows what would happen if 99.9% were good enough.  If it were, the following would be true:

  • 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents every day
  • 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped each year
  • 18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled per hour
  • 2,000,000 documents will be lost by the IRS this year
  • 2.5 million books will be shipped with the wrong covers
  • 2 planes landing at O’Hare airport will be unsafe every day
  • 20,000 wrong drug prescriptions will be written this year
  • 5.5 million cases of soft drinks will be flat
  • 3,056 copies of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal will be missing one of three sections
Staggering numbers.

I work in an industry where editing mistakes can change the entire meaning of the tax codes we are teaching.  The editorial staff is constantly striving for perfection in everything they do so that no mistakes are published in the training manuals.  If I wanted to, I could direct the staff to never allow a single error, and I have every confidence they could get it done.  But at what cost?

There are not many things that are impossible to make mistake-free.  Given enough human resources, time, and quality checks, today’s products and services can be perfect.  But all of that comes with a cost.  Many times, a very high cost.

So how good is good enough?  A look at the numbers above incite fear and the answer that “only 100%” will be acceptable.  But would you say the same if 1 board out of 50 were slightly bent in a stack of wood for wall studs?  Or what about 25 cars out of 25000 having a missing light bulb?  Do those warrant the cost it would require to make them right 100% of the time?

In training, the same principle applies.  How much time and energy should be spent training for every possible outcome?  With limited training budgets, the cost of minute-detail training may not be worth it.  Don’t make the mistake of always shooting for “good enough” though.  Good enough has a negative connotation for a reason – it groans of mediocrity.  Strive for excellence, but count the cost to achieve it and adjust as necessary.

If you look at your company, are there areas where you over-train to the point of diminishing returns?

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