Monday, October 14, 2013

A Moving Target

If you were ever in the military and had to qualify for marksmanship with a weapon, you know how hard it can be to consistently hit 40 stationary targets at various distances (50 to 300 meters) from various shooting positions.  First, you have to shoot from the prone position (lying down on your stomach) with the rifle resting on sandbags.  That’s the easiest position to shoot from; any twelve year-old kid could do it.  Next, you have to shoot from the sitting, kneeling, and standing positions.  To qualify as a marksman you have to hit 40 stationary targets 24 times (60% success rate), as a sharpshooter 29 times (73% success rate), and as an expert 36 times (90% success rate).  (I qualified as a sharpshooter while in the Navy.)

Now imagine how hard it would be to consistently hit the target if it were moving?  You’d have to be an expertly trained sniper to do that.  On April 12th 2009, a three man U.S. Navy SEAL team of snipers firing from the fantail of the U.S.S. Bainbridge (DDG-96) simultaneously killed three Somali pirates on a moving lifeboat saving the life of their hostage Captain Richard Phillips.  Imagine how hard that would be to do with the ship and the lifeboat simultaneously bobbing up and down in the ocean?  Very few people in the world could pull those shots off.

Most organizations have target goals they want their employees to shoot for.  Maybe their target goal is to have a certain level of sales; maybe it’s a certain level of customer satisfaction; or maybe it’s some other metrics they want their employees to hit.  Of course there are rules to follow while doing these (distance and shooting positions): you have to abide by the organizations policies, procedures, and guidelines.  An ethical company would teach you that how you shoot is as important as hitting the target.  It’s pretty easy to hit 40 targets from 50 meters in the prone position, but not from further distances or in the sitting, kneeling, or standing positions.

I once worked for a company that set multiple target goals every year.  The big targets to hit though were sales, service, and customer satisfaction.  The hard part was that most of the issues I had to deal with were moving targets (ambiguous situations).  Everyday the targets moved and the rules changed.  I had to think on my feet and make quick decisions; there wasn’t a company guidebook to help me.  So I had to balance sales and service, with customer satisfaction, with making me happy.  In other words I had to find a win-win-win solution to most issues.

Unfortunately, most of the time it was a win for the company (they made their money), it was a win for the customer (they were satisfied), but a lose for me (I had to work and sacrifice over-and-above the norm without any reward or recognition).  In fact when it came time for annual reviews, the company’s attitude was “you only hit the target 36 out of 40 times (90% success rate or expert marksman) . . . no raise for you!”  In other words they wanted a highly trained expert Navy SEAL sniper that could hit a moving target 100% of the time.    

One thing I learned while studying for my MBA is that it’s important to set realistic and attainable goals for your employees and to reward them fairly.  Just as the military does for their marksmanship qualification.  They don’t ask the average sailor, soldier, or marine to be 100% accurate; 60% to 90% is acceptable.  In fact in actual combat their expectations are that their accuracy will decline 50% because of stress.  They don’t expect everyone to be as good as a U.S. Navy SEAL sniper shooting at a moving target.

Companies too have to be realistic with their performance expectations of their employees.  Some can only be average performers (marksman), some can be high performers (sharpshooters), some can be star performers (expert), and maybe only one can be a superstar performer (sniper).  You can’t expect everyone to be a superstar (sniper) and only reward superstar performance.  The marksman, sharpshooter, and expert deserve recognition too.

In my case, while I usually hit the moving targets (figuratively I was the equivalent of an expert marksman or 90% accurate), the company’s failure to account for the moving targets and reward success eventually burned me out and I finally quit after an eighteen-year career with them.

Someone once said, “Any fool can applaud, real appreciation comes in the form of folding green money!”

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