I’m doing the best I can!

How many times have we heard someone say: “I’m doing the best I can!” How many times have we faced them in disappointment or even disgust and replied: “No, you’re not!” or “If that’s so that’s pathetic!” or “You could have do a lot better!” or any other number of retorts that come to mind in anger or frustration. Whether we are speaking to our child, a co-worker or subordinate, I’m here to say we are wrong:  “You did do the best you could”

Let me explain. The litany of responses I listed above, the endless number and  manner of criticisms we feel compelled to direct to that person who has disappointed us, failed to live up to our expectations or failed to accomplish a task we’ve assigned; they not only do no good, they are absolutely not true.

Listen to wisdom: “Everybody does the best they can every time.” I am going to repeat that, emphatically: “Everybody, child adult, man, woman, young or old, does the best they can every time.”

Your co-worker, the one you call a slacker, the one who never finishes what they start, the one whose work you often complete, they are doing the best they can.

Your child, the one whose room is a mess, whose grades are poor, who talks back and never pays attention, they are doing the best they can.

Your employee,  the often tardy, sometimes surly hourly worker who always seems to “be in trouble” with you, co-workers, and customers, they are doing the best they can.

Your team member, the brilliant but unpleasant, the dumb but ingratiating, the callous and irritating, the “one with so much potential” they are all doing the best they can.

If they are doing the best they can, could the solution to their lack of achievement, their lack of progress, their failure lie somewhere else, Could it be that…You need to change, you need to understand human behavior just a little better than now, because frankly, you’re doing the best you can, and it’s not working.

Perception and expectation color if not create all our relationships. It is the nature of us to perceive each newly met human being first as ” Friend Or Foe.”  There is only one exception to this instinctive behavior, “Motherhood,” and I am not about to claim any understanding or expertise of this remarkable exception, other than to be thankful for it. I am one of  those about which it was often said “Only a mother could love….” For all other circumstances, believe me, just below the veneer of civilization, there lies a being who has evolved in fear of life or limb for eons, whose sense of smell and sensory acuity has been replaced by an acute discriminatory event, the seldom ignored, seldom changed “first impression.”  We respond viscerally to what we see and hear, overtly or subliminally to what we smell, to the first touch, be it handshake or hug, we instinctively decide which side of the FOF line the new acquaintance will fall, or if they will straddle the line until we know more about them.

The FOF line, the friend or foe line, is a powerful ever-present sensory demarcation line that exists in every initial experience we have with any other human, or for that matter, with any other animal we encounter.  This essay is not about that primal phenomenon, I mention it here to explain how we first develop expectations of behavior.

And do we ever develop expectations!   From the first sight of any human, we begin, subconsciously at first, and then with intent, to assign characteristics to that person. Even mothers do this with their babies! You or I do it with every new person we meet, and in fact, with every old acquaintance we see, every day. Assuming that we perceive them as a friend, we may expect friendship, “Will they like me” or if they are a new peer, “Will they work as hard as I do” or if they are a subordinate, “Will they do the job; will they fit into my team?”

Expectations are an inextinguishable part of human behavior. We form them based on our perceptions.  And they are often the most damaging element to forming and maintaining relationships.

Briefly, I want to examine that particular relationship that forms between employer and employee. It is critical on so many levels, and impacts so many events. Understanding how expectations undermine the nature of the relationship and how to avoid forming them, or at avoid acting on them, is the key to productivity and profitability. More importantly, you must come to the realization that “every employee has done the best they can!”

“That’s ridiculous!” you shout at that statement.  You can list 15 things the employee who popped into your mind, when you read that statement, could have done better. Answer me this, can you in any way alter the work which was done today, or yesterday, or last week or last month, by that employee? Can you make one more widget yesterday? Can you make one more sales call yesterday? Can they type one more letter yesterday? Can they undo that incredibly stupid accounting mistake…yesterday?

Of course, the answer is no, not you, or your company, or the Uncle Sam or even the Good Lord can, or in the Lord’s case will, change what happened yesterday.

If you want an employee to improve, the soonest they will start improving is tomorrow, and most importantly, that employee’s improvement must start with you!

The easiest and most cynical method of improvement is for you to lower expectations. I am not suggesting this, although this is society’s most common solution. Programs for improvement in social welfare, education, even entitlements like Medicaid and Social security all rely on this method of demonstrating “improvement,” and all are, by any objective, absolute standard, failures.

In fact, I believe that this is the usual and now ordinary way we deal with our children’s failures, our marriage failures, our personal lack of “success,” we lower our standards, we lower our expectations. Personal relationships share many of the characteristics of commercial relationships and are in many ways similar.  Here, however, we deal with you and your employee. Importantly, unlike our parents, we can choose who we hire. Here again, we often didn’t choose or hire the particular employee we brought to mind when we mentioned every employee has done the best they could. Suppose, in a small business, we had. This is a topic for another paper, another time, but obviously choosing the right employee, making the right hire is critical to your company achieving the goals it demands of itself.

Engagement, evaluation, education, encouragement, this is the eeeeasy path to achievement.

Engagement is the method by which we select candidates and by which we hire them. Success in this initial and critical phase is the least costly to achieve. If done correctly, the candidate selected for hiring will be the best fit for the tasks required. Notice, I did not say the job required, but rather the task or tasks required for your company’s success.

Get over job descriptions, get into task descriptions. Job descriptions define what has taken place; task descriptions define what will need to occur, on an individual level, to achieve the goals that define success.

In a great business, everything changes, but the people. The job descriptions change, but those tasked with changing to meet the times, the new demands, they are usually the same people.

Evaluation is the next phase of creating achievement.  You may or may not have had a hand in the engagement of the employee, but you are responsible for evaluating how to best use that new employee. If you have been sent a new hire by Human Resources to fill a “Job Description,” this is much harder, but still possible to achieve. In the bureaucracy of a government or union job, it may be impossible.  This is because of “job descriptions” and “work rules” that exist to benefit special interests. If you are an eeeeasy manager , you have already described your path to achievement of goals as a series of tasks, not a collection of jobs. As an example, to achieve a goal, it is necessary to accomplish 50 tasks. You have 10 employees, 5 tasks each. But which task to which employee, can one do eight easy tasks and another only one difficult task? Should some tasks be shared and others not?  Who is best at what? If you do not know who does what best, you could fail to achieve your goal, or fail to achieve it most efficiently. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of your employees. Learn what they do best, and what they do poorly. And always seek to have the right employee doing what they do best. It’s called teamwork!

Education is the third phase of creating achievement. In the business world we call it training, but we really should use the terms often heard in elementary school. Mastering tasks, or task mastering. He has mastered fractions, she has mastered parsing sentences, and they have mastered choral. You can not go on to long division if you haven’t mastered the concept of fractions, you can not understand grammar if you can’t diagram a sentence, you can’t sign Mozart’s Requiem if you’ve never sung in a chorus. Whatever tasks you need to accomplish, analyze them, define the path, create hallmarks, and state clearly what is necessary for completion, for achievement.

Encouragement is the fourth step to achievement; motivation is created by continuous positive reinforcement of accomplishment. Your employee must share your knowledge, your vision of the goal and clearly appreciate the value of their contribution. Your positive attitude and unquestioned willingness to help all employees be better at what task they necessarily must accomplish will assure achievement and success.

Always be positive; always seek to lift your team to its highest level of achievement. If you end your day firm in the belief that everyone has done the best they could, you’ll find that tomorrow, they will do better.

Let me close this paper with two observations: it’s team work that accomplishes great goals, “Just do It” is absurd, narcissistic crap. They just want you to do it, to buy the shoe! “Let’s do It” a more honest and far superior motivational anthem, and will yield far greater results to a much greater purpose than a shoe line’s simplistic pitch.

In a nation in which politicians constantly tout “individual responsibility” and place a premium on “individual rights”, it is too often ignored that while men die alone, they fight together. In business, the “whole” is greater than the sum of the parts, the collective experience is more memorable than individual experience, and the work of all together brings the highest personal achievement.

You are responsible for making sure you are comfortable in saying “ Everyone did the best they could today.” Your team will be responsible for that being said of you.

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