95% is a great score. You can get a 4.0 at Harvard and graduate with honors scoring 95% on all your test. However, anything less than 100% on landing a plane is considered failure. I’ve built a small mountain of training over the years and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “What should be setting as a passing score for this class?” Most of the time everyone is so concerned about what happens if someone fails the test, that they want to set the bar as low as possible.
While you might think that the pilot example is a little extreme, let me build the case for 100% and then show you how raising the passing score begins to change everything. Teaching to 100% is very different than teaching to 75%.
Let’s take something as simple as learning to add, subtract, multiple and divide. On a 50 question test if you only got five wrong, that’s 90% right. The teacher might give you a gold star or write GOOD WORK across the top. Later on your first job, you’re running a cash register. Using you’re A+ math skills, you give out correct change 90% of the time, not bad. Well maybe not, you eventually get fired because the register never balances at the end of the day.
Consider other common jobs and situations. A large part of the work in call centers involves giving out product information, taking orders and answering questions. If every agent, scored 75% or better on all their training this means that as much as 25% of the time they are giving out wrong information or making errors on your order. If you were president of the company, would this be okay with you? Before you answer, consider how much these errors cost you in terms of lost customers and lost sales.
Safety is a big deal in every manufacturing plant. If you get 75% right on all the safety tests, it’s a little like only losing a couple of fingers, if you’re lucky. Safety is something that requires 100%. Good simply isn’t good enough.
Remember 10th grade history? History is filled with dates, names, places and events. How much history is it okay to get wrong or mixed up? Does it matter that the treaty of Versailles ended World War I and not World War II? Anyway, over the years, most people forget most of what they learned in 10th grade so it may not be that serious.
In business most jobs require getting things right. Often this doesn’t happen right out of training but as a result of a lot of practice on the job. From doctors to engineers to carpenters to pharmacists, there are severe consequences for getting things wrong, even little things. When a pharmacist makes one mistake in a 1000 when filling prescriptions, it’s a disaster.
Setting the bar high is only part of the equation. There is also a cumulative effect that happens over time. It’s easiest to see in a school setting. If from first to twelfth grade you get 90% right on all your tests, that means that the remaining 10% is a growing body of knowledge that’s wrong. It doesn’t seem like a lot on one test, but on several hundred is massive. That’s for a top student. For a C student getting 70%, that’s the same as getting everything for 3 ½ years wrong.