The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.
Originally used to describe the literal raising of the bar in high jump after athletes launched themselves into the air, the phrase “raising the bar” now represents the gradual lifting of accepted minimum standards of something.
In organisations, why is raising the bar so important?
Because complacency is deadly. Sit on your laurels, and risk being overtaken.
Just ask Kodak.
The Death of Kodak
For most of the 20th century, Kodak dominated the photographic film industry. They were pioneers in amateur photography, with sales topping US $1 billion in 1962.
They stopped raising the bar.
The company got complacent, innovation stalled, and digital photography whooshed past in the early 2000s. In the blink of an eye, Kodak was buried beneath Sony, Canon, and Nikon.
In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
Their spectacular fall is made even more incredible when you consider the fact that the digital camera was invented by one of Kodak’s very own electrical engineers in the 1970s.
That’s right — Kodak had the technology but refused to embrace it, believing photographic film would never be topped.
The Fall of Nokia
Here’s another example that might bring back fond memories: Nokia.
In the 90s, most Aussies began their life of mobile ownership with a humble Nokia. In 1998 alone, Nokia sold over 40 million phones and became the world’s top cellular phone maker. Net sales increased by 50% year-on-year, and market capitalisation topped $70 billion.
Then in the mid-2000s, Motorola released a flip phone. Nokia stubbornly dismissed it as a fad and suffered a loss in sales to Motorola.
In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. Nokia was late to the game again and didn’t release their first touchscreen until 2008 — and it proved to be significantly sub-par to the iPhone experience.
By 2009, with sales plunging, Nokia admitted they’d been slow to react to the changes in the market — in other words, slow to raise the bar — and in 2014, they were absorbed by Microsoft, to fall within Microsoft’s ‘Devices’ group.
Implementing a ‘Raising the Bar’ Attitude
At the end of the day, an organisation is only as strong as the individuals who run it.
Reminding staff of your organisation’s short- and long-term goals, as well as recording personal growth plans, is one effective approach to maintaining a forward-moving environment.
Within Step Change, workplace culture is guided by five ‘Ways of Being’:
- I am coachable
- I am a problem solver
- I am raising the bar
- I am responsible
- I am resilient
The third, raising the bar, has a subheading which describes the goal of “outperforming myself daily”.
This value relates to the individual, the team, as well as the organisation. It radiates outward, and the whole company benefits along the way.
By having this value clearly displayed in the workplace, staff are encouraged to go for gold in every task they encounter.
Set a Game Worth Playing
Ashton Bishop, our CEO here at Step Change and Australia’s Predatory Marketer, explains his take on raising the bar in the workplace:
Too often in organisations, competition means looking at the person next to you, and being prepared to cut their throat to get ahead. We’re not interested in the “every person for themselves” approach; we want people to be super competitive against their own benchmarks.
We employ people who are prepared to look at themselves, give honest assessments of where they are, and set a game worth playing for where they want to be.
Raising the bar is the ability to define that gap between now and future and be prepared to work towards closing it by delivering increased performance; we encourage our staff to put all of their focus, effort, and attention on closing it.
Here’s What You Can Do
Here are some suggestions for implementing a “raising the bar” approach in the workplace:
- Maintain an open dialogue with staff.When ideas or concerns can be expressed freely, support can be readily offered, encouragement can be given, and issues can be addressed before they affect entire teams. Nothing destroys motivation faster than growing, below-the-surface negativity.
- Reward staff for meeting milestones.Even if it’s as simple as a free cappuccino from the local café, acknowledging achievements (even small ones) boosts motivation far more than letting achievements pass by unnoticed. A staff member who feels unappreciated won’t be quick to meet their bar, no matter how low it’s been set for them.
- Lead by example.Everyone knows that attitude is contagious — especially in the workplace. Constantly raising your own bar and striving to accomplish new goals is the easiest way to inspire the people around you. In keeping with the first point above, discuss your achievements and challenges openly with staff. Your experience, advice, and approach to meeting goals will be incredibly valuable to the people you’ve hired, and it will show them first-hand how to raise their own bar.
You can raise the bar or you can wait for others to raise it, but it’s getting raised regardless.
— Seth Godin, American author and entrepreneur