Recently I read an article about injuries for rookie firefighters on the rise after they lower their physical performance standards. This is my surprised face in case you are wondering.

The needs of the many

The funny part was I came across that message as I was leaving Oklahoma where I had just given a leadership lecture, which had a major focus on standards. While we talked a lot about leadership traits and the importance of all the cute leadership quotes, the part regarding standards seemed to be the most engaging from the audience. These were the people in charge of the standards for a huge federal agency with a very important mission. You bet I was doing my best to get the point across because quite frankly it benefits me and my family.

Back to the juice box award

What is the downside to lowering standards, what does it really mean. I think from one point of view it means diversity. More people can live out their dreams from childhood, dreams like in this case being a firefighter. That means people who might not have had a chance now have a chance. It’s all about the “me” instead of recognizing it’s about the team. I sat there and told the audience there were times I didn’t get picked for a mission because I wasn’t the best choice. Yah, it pissed me off, yah I didn’t like it, but rather than cry about it, I did something about. I figured out my weaknesses as it pertained to the mission and worked to improve. That is the beauty of standards, the work when implemented, enforced and followed. I know it is silly logic, but it works.

The demand for higher standards

There’s an old saying everything works until it doesn’t. So, if you lower standards what do you get? In plain English you get a watered down product. There was a time when we aimed for the moon, literally. It was the Space Race between the former USSR and the US. So many amazing things occurred and I believe the Apollo 11 mission of landing a man on the moon is still one of our crowning achievements as a country. The standards in place to make the cut as an astronaut are there for a reason, a damn good one. I get it, do we need to see the same level of standards if we are say going to run into a burning building. I’m going to say probably not, however what is the same is the development of standards as it pertains to each field.

Breaking it down

It doesn’t matter if you are strapped into a rocket or running into a burning building the objectives to achieve peak performance from each field are pretty much the same. You identify a task, you establish the conditions and then you determine the standard. The standard is establishing the expected outcome for everyone. It is the most important part to the objective formula, you have to put the most time into it ensuring it is relative, realistic and repeatable.

Sometimes and maybe are not standards

Integrity is component that is often misunderstood, but when I apply it to performance objectives it means they are the exact same across the board. As a training company we go out of our way to ensure our performance objectives are exactly the same. Without that, we become subjective and not objective. It is critical to remain objective when evaluating anything, there are no favors, backdoors or mulligans. There is just performance, you either pass or fail. Recently as we were establishing our 2015 calendar I had a host who wanted us to use their readily available targets. Our response was of course we can do that, but here is the cost of that decision. We will have to tell the students their final grade will not count since they were not measured against the standard that all others were. That is why people come to us to train, it is because of our relentless pursuit of standards.

I’m sure everyone can talk a good game until it is their ass strapped to 4.4 million pounds of rocket fuel. Hopefully there is some comfort knowing standards were not lowered because someone had a dream to work for NASA who didn’t get all A’s in school.

3 thoughts on “Lower Standards, lower performance

  1. Marty says:


    I couldn’t agree more. As an instructor, once you start bending the rules or making exceptions when it comes to evaluating a student (because of who he is, who he knows, etc…), then all of your evaluations become meaningless … and your personal reputation suffers.

    Your last paragraph cracked me up … it reminds me of a poster we used to hang in the squad room: it had a big picture of french fries and underneath the picture read, “Because not everybody gets to be an astronaut.”

    Good stuff … keep them coming.

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