The Substandard

The Substandard

This post was written with a Zimbabwean business audience in mind, however, it is highly applicable across any culture that has people who slack on the job. To keep the original tone, the Zimbabwean references were left intact.

It's waiting to stab us. Every morning there is an ambush waiting to bring you down. This movement wants to kill you, destroy you, and make sure that everything you do is half-baked. It's called the "I don't have to do my work very well in order to live." Otherwise known as "I can sit on my butt and wait for business to come" or "Because of all the economic challenges I don't really have to do things on a world class level." It's the force that we wake up to every day which contributes to creating a less than perfect Zimbabwe and a less than perfect world. In short, this wallowing in the pool of self-pity can be termed: the substandard.

The Substandard In Africa

I'll be the first to say that in Zimbabwe it's a little more difficult to do everything par excellence. It was also extremely difficult and frustrating for Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel while toxic paint was dripping down and burning his eyelids, causing him partial blindness later in his life. Sustaining a high level of excellence takes effort. Maintaining standards requires energy. Avoiding falling into the path of least resistance is a constant battle against the substandard.

It starts with one, two, or three people; and you saying excellence is worth striving for and the substandard must leave. It takes a person (i.e. you) to start asking the questions when things are not world class. You cannot fix them in a day, maybe even in a year, but still ask the hard questions and challenge the substandard status quo in your business, in your career. In this city we can ask the questions like "why are terrible looking billboards thrown up on our main roads with no ounce of art infused in our design (and why are there fifty on Borrowdale Road)?"

When we get go shopping and the bill comes to $9.30 do we, the customer get given a shoddy piece of paper claiming to have a value for change. Ninety percent of those "store credit receipts" get lost and the profit margins of grocery stores scream to all new heights (go on, do the math; how many cents do you as a customer lose a month in worn out credit notes, now multiply that by a million customers). Why don’t we, the loyal, faithful customer get given 70 cents, real coins that glisten and clink in our pockets?

The Substandard Creeps In Slowly.

It does not suddenly appear, but eases into our lives in such a manner that we tolerate and adapt to it. We've stopped asking the question about why water doesn't come out of our taps, and we are no longer surprised when the power goes off. We have adapted with generators and boreholes (water wells).

I remember sitting with a friend of mine when the water woes first started in Harare. He predicted that one day people would no longer complain that there was no water in their taps, but rather that the queue at the communal borehole was too long. People would adapt to the situation that crept up on them.

Now I do not think we should have a full scale rant every time something bad happens, but turning a blind eye is detrimental to our nation. Look at your business, your friends, your country and push back a little. Play a part in changing a substandard situation into a par excellence.

The other day I had a person who was late to a meeting. You should know, I cancelled another engagement to make my appointment with him. He was 30 minutes late. When he walked into the room, I shook his hand, I looked him in the eye and said “Sir, you are half an hour late with no explanation. If we do not respect each other's time we won't respect each other at all.” I pushed back.

It might have been easier and more convenient to act like it did not happen and get on with business but then I would be sucking down a 4 litre bottle of slimy status quo, and later I would have to tell my wife I got owned.

Consider this a challenge to examine your life and then let us collectively strive to build something better. Look where service has slid in your business and correct it. If enough people demand coins for change perhaps the shops will listen. Step back and reflect a little on where you have fallen or given ground then take a stand.

And yes, it will be a daily battle to avoid giving into the gentle, subtle pull of the substandard but excellence is worth it.

(Photo: Kheel Center, Cornell University)