Work-life Lesson 3: Set your performance standards high and never give in to “good enough”. Be your own toughest critic.

By: Glenn Remoreras, in collaboration with Ira Fialkow and Ivy Remoreras 

Is there a secret formula for success in business – and in your career?  Probably not. But I believe it makes sense to learn from the people I respect and who have been successful themselves.

Case in point: Ira Fialkow was the Executive Vice President for Shared Services at CEMEX, until recently. His career spans 25 years and he is a highly respected leader in his field. This series marks the culmination of 25 business lessons documented and developed by Ira over the past 25 years of his career. Ira used to distribute these lessons to the team every year. In this series, I will endeavor to share the 25 business lessons that I’ve learned from Ira and our shared services team.

This is part three of the series: 25 Lessons for Work (and Life!) – 3-Minute Coaching Sessions

Set your performance standards high and never give in to “good enough”. Be your own toughest critic.

Success in your work and personal life is directly related to your productivity, commitment and performance. Therefore, setting performance standards for oneself is taking responsibility for one’s own career and life. Today, performance standards and goal setting in companies is routine and frequently performed in contexts as diverse as every level of the organization. In an individual’s life, setting one’s own standards can touch one’s personal and family life so as to significantly alter social, economic and personal well-being. As such, lesson three teaches us that setting high performance standards can beat mediocrity and achieve highflying goals.

Ira explained why this lesson made the list. He said, “I think one of my biggest frustrations as a manager is seeing someone with unlimited potential give in to ‘good enough’. On the other hand, it’s always a pleasure when someone takes accountability for their own career and always looks for an opportunity to improve things and themselves in the process.”

Personally, Ira had this epiphany when he was passed over for a promotion early in his career. He was upset, went to his manager and pointed out that he “had done everything expected and that had been asked of me.”  His manager simply answered, “Exactly. That’s why you have a job.”  The promotion was given to someone who wanted a career – someone who did things above and beyond what was expected.  He got the message.

This message is best articulated in Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great”.  According to Collins, “Good is the enemy of Great”. Nothing is more true. We are driven to change when we hit bottom or get bad results – but nothing kills the energy and drive to being better than being “good”. We have to take personal accountability to ensure that we are always our own toughest critic and never give in to “good enough”.

Set your own goals first and set it with a high performance standard

Setting performance standards should start as a personal endeavor. Set performance standards high and don’t settle for mediocrity. If you are serious with achieving success in your career, regularly conducting self-assessment and goal setting is very important. Goal setting is a powerful process that not only ensures your performance standards support your goals, but also motivates you to turn your vision into reality. This necessitates setting high performance standards — not only for your team or organization — but more importantly, for yourself. You cannot expect high performance from others if you yourself cannot perform at the same or higher level.

In addition, setting your own high standards and goals prepare you better for commitment to work objectives expected of you. Self-assessment helps you determine your own capabilities and limitations. If you did your own self-assessment, you are in a better position to set performance standards and goals with others. Knowing your own skills and shortcomings allows you to determine if the performance standard expected of you (by your boss, for example) is reachable or not. And if not, you will be able to ask for the resources you need in order to be successful. Constant self-assessment is critical. You cannot expect nor wait for other people to critique your work. It is in your best interests to do it yourself, especially after every work objective (such as a project or implementation) is achieved (or not, as the case may be).  The basic questions to ask would be: Am I a good boss or co-worker? How could this have gone better? What can we learn out of this?

The process of setting high performance standards keeps you motivated. It increases the chances of success. If you have mediocre goals then you miss them, you totally fail. If you have high performance standards, it helps you go much further in your work and in life. By knowing precisely what you want to achieve, you know where you need to concentrate your efforts. You’ll also quickly spot the distractions that can, so easily, lead you astray. Make sure you get agreement on how the performance will be monitored and how frequently. In order for the process to go forward, you need to monitor your own performance.

There are many formal methodologies for setting high performance standards. One method I like to use is “SMART” goals. SMART means they are: specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented and time-bound. The technique in controlling your productivity and success is knowing the extent of what you can achieve. Know your safe, reach and stretch targets. Safe targets are attainable goals. Your reach targets are goals that you can achieve with complete control and influence. Stretch targets are attainable but with certain conditions beyond your control. It should be attainable but if it isn’t, you should know the reasons why it is not.

I know Ira is a big fan of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In fact, for a few years, Ira had some of our team members become certified 7 Habits trainers and teach courses to their peers in shared services as a supplement to TQM training.  There are a number of methods for setting high performance standards; the key is to find something that works for you!

Why Your Inner Critic Is Your Best Friend

If you want to be the best you must always view your work with contempt and reservation. Not because you hate what you do but because you want to have the best result. Always critique your own work thoroughly and have a high standard. Come to think of it, you’d be in big trouble without an Inner Critic. Critics are actually a very important part of your performance, productivity and creative process. Since you can’t expect others to always criticize and challenge you, you can begin by making yourself your toughest critic. Your Inner Critic is your first level of assessing the quality of your performance and without it; you could end up with mediocre results. With yourself as your toughest critic, you will also raise your self-confidence, as you recognize your own ability and competence in achieving the goals that you’ve set.

Work-life Lesson 3 Takeaways: 

  • Your personal success in your work and life is directly related to your attitude, productivity, commitment and performance. Setting performance standards for oneself is taking responsibility of one’s own career and life.
  • Setting performance standards should start as a personal endeavor. Set performance standards high and don’t settle for mediocrity.
  • Critics are actually a very important part of your performance, productivity and creative process. Since you can’t expect others to always criticize and challenge you, you can begin by making yourself your toughest critic.
  • The enemy of great is good. Never give in to ‘good enough’.

Link to Previous Lesson: If Your Don’t Know, Say “I Don’t Know”

About the collaborators:

Ira Fialkow is the SVP of Member Services at Peeriosity. Peeriosity is a confidential network of leading companies from across the world committed to collaborating openly with each other in a completely secure environment with interactions free of consultants and vendors. Prior to Peeriosity, Ira was EVP of Shared Services at CEMEX and Rinker Group (acquired by CEMEX is 2007) from 1990 through joining Peeriosity in October 2010. Rinker Group was the initial recipient of the Best Mature Shared Services Award in 2003. Ira lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and has been the champion of his fantasy football league in three of the past five years.

Glenn Remoreras is an IT Manager at CEMEX. He brings over 12 years of experience as an IT director, business processes manager, project leader, and consultant. He has focused on enabling business solutions through the use of IT capabilities. Glenn has been involved with various international post merger integration projects.

Ivy Remoreras is a marketing professional with eight years of extensive experience, particularly in product management, communications and promotions as a manager, university instructor and consultant. She believes in constant learning and has a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA). Having resided in Europe, Asia and North America, she speaks four languages.

Photos courtesy of Renjith Krishnan and Simon Howden

4 thoughts on “Work-life Lesson 3: Set your performance standards high and never give in to “good enough”. Be your own toughest critic.

  1. Mon I completely understand your point. When I got started at HSBC we were introduced to this right off the bat “good to great”. What the article points out is to be your own critic because critics at times are rare. I say at times there are lots of performance critics better before they start criticizing our performance we already conducted our own self-evaluation.

  2. I think I’m guilty on this one. I would settle for something “pwede na” instead of “pwedeng-pwede.” Very good point, makes me excited for the next one.

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