A Moving Target
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.
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 away) from various shooting positions. First, you have to shoot from the prone position (lying 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 with an M-14 rifle while in the Navy. Qualifying with an M-16 rifle is even harder as it's about half the weight of an M-14.)
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 sniper team 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 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 organization's 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. Hitting the target goals would even be harder if they were moving such as in the case of the Navy SEALs and Somali pirates.
When I worked for PHILIPS Healthcare, they 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). Every day the targets moved and the rules changed. I had to think on my feet while trying to make wise decisions (there wasn’t a company guidebook to help me). I only knew that if the customer or the company weren't happy with my decisions there would be hell to pay. So I had to balance sales, service, and customer satisfaction, with making me and my family happy. In other words, I had to find a win-win-win solution to most issues. I was one man doing the job of ten for the good of hundreds, and there simply weren't enough hours in the day or week to provide deluxe service to everyone.
Unfortunately, most of the time it was a win for the company (they made money), it was a win for the customer (they were satisfied), but a lose for me and my family as I had to consistently work and sacrifice over-and-above the norm without any rewards or recognition. I could have hit the moving target 90% of the time during the year, but it would be the 10% of the time that I missed the company would penalize me for. In fact, when it came time for annual reviews, the company’s attitude was “You missed the target 10% of the time . . . 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. (I suspect the real reasons for their lack of generosity were they didn't want to share the wealth or vindictive managers who just wanted to get rid of someone.)
One thing I learned in business school 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. The military doesn't expect the average sailor, soldier, airman, or marine to be 100% accurate 100% of the time; 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. Psychologists have shown that the average person makes at least a dozen mistakes an hour and that mistakes double or triple while in stressful situations. And this should put your mind at ease the next time you're flying: the average pilot makes at least two dozen mistakes an hour!
Companies too have to be realistic about their performance expectations of their employees. Some can only be average performers (marksman), some can be high performers (sharpshooters), some can be star performers (experts), and maybe rarely can one 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 and rewards too. There's no faster way to demotivate employees than to set unrealistic and unattainable goals.
In my case, while I usually hit the moving targets 90% of the time (an expert marksman), PHILIPS' failure to account for the moving targets and reward success eventually burned me out and I quit after an eighteen-year career with them. Ironically enough, the last year I worked for them I was number one in sales and customer satisfaction. Someone once said, “Any fool can applaud, real appreciation comes in the form of folding green cash!”