The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept
This great quote – attributed to Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison (a senior officer in the Australian Army) – was first said to me by Dan Pruce, a speaker on one of our leadership development programmes.
Dan’s story went something like this:
Every day I walked past a scruffy old hedge.
The hedge ran along the side of one of our office buildings, our gardener was responsible for giving it an occasional trim. I supposed that because the public rarely saw it, it had tumbled down the priority list, and got little attention.
It annoyed me, but it wasn’t my priority either, and I didn’t really think of it as something under my sphere of influence. It took me a while before I realised I could do something about it.
So I put aside my reservations about being seen to be wasting time on an unimportant issue, and ignored my inner voice shouting at me to stop being annoying, and I met the gardener and asked that the hedge be maintained to a higher standard.
It was a small thing, but from that moment on I never walked past something I thought wasn’t good enough.
Odd for a story about topiary to be so meaningful, but the central message was clear: if you’re a leader, and you don’t challenge it, that means it’s OK.
Since that story, I started to notice lots of things that weren’t good enough that I’d been walking past: my own “hedges”.
The first time was right after Dan’s speech. I was discussing the programme with my boss, and I noticed a jumble of cables and wires in the corner of the training room, and nodded toward them, cryptically saying “Look, a Prucian hedge”
Sentences like that tend to need explaining, but she immediately understood. Now Prucian hedges are a regular feature in our leadership development programmes.
Since then I saw Prucian hedges everywhere: the out-of-date messages on the noticeboard, the clunky spreadsheet process to book workshops, the ramshackle intranet site … and, once when extracting cash from an ATM, I saw four different bank employees walk blindly past the piles of screwed up receipts littering the vestibule floor.
If only one of them had come back with a broom!
These were all small things, things that quickly become part of the background, but attention to detail when demanding high standards is a gift that keeps on giving.
I once ran a team that had to produce important documents for customers. The first time we did it with a brand new machine, the photo came out wonky. My colleague asked me to sign it off.
I made him do it again: I wasn’t going to walk past this Prucian hedge.
He rolled his eyes at how annoying I was.
I didn’t mind, I was never asked to sign off a wonky photo again.
What Prucian hedges are you walking past?