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The Secret to Excellence

The Secret to Excellence

Linda Wawrzyniak, President of Higher Standards Academy, LLC


Often times when you hear the word “standards”, rigidity and rules come to mind. It even makes some people cringe because it implies perfection. But standards can also refer to doing things well, like the idea of excellence.

I remember my first job out of college when my boss put a stack of books on my desk. Looking up I asked him, “What’s this”? He smiled and said, “Standards. Read through these and show us how to put them into practice”.

“Okkkkkkk” I thought.

I worked as an Engineer for a Fortune 5 company at the time and guess what we were doing? Designing and manufacturing automobile assemblies that were critical to a driver’s life and death. They had to be right. Period.

The standards were unbelievably complex. There were layers and layers of expectations, tight tolerances, tests and end results that had to happen. It took me months just to understand them, let alone create the systems that would carry them out.

Luckily, I had a team and together we took each one apart, piece by piece. We were an international company so we had to make sure the systems that we created would be understood by many cultures and languages. Not an easy task, which is why it took us almost a year.

Finally, when the “office thinking” was done, we had to test and retest, then put them into practice. This was one of the greatest challenges yet because we had to teach everyone involved (easily over 20 people) how to execute these systems. Most of the workers had English as a second language(ESL), not their primary language, which added to the challenge.

I grew up bilingual and bicultural and teaching people how to operate in English was part of my fabric. This came in handy when I needed people to understand that what they were building could save someone’s life.  It was here that I learned the importance of  world class standards.

Consulting with one of biggest accounting firms in the country led to my next run in with standards. I had to help their clients, from various industries (healthcare, logistics, aerospace, finance) and locations (US, Latin America and Europe), implement quality systems in every part of their business. It was here I noticed that with every standard expectation and system implementation came the need for education. So, I became “educated on education” and made a point to use this knowledge in curriculum development.

This served me well when the Department of Education needed some help with an ESL STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for local manufacturers.  I worked with their statewide education standards (which were much easier than engineering standards!) and helped them develop new curriculums to get people communicating about the things that mattered. This program was a success and soon I was asked to share some of my curriculum methods at the state level. What an honor that was.

Today, the work Higher Standards Academy, LLC does in transitioning international minor league baseball players to the major leagues has everything to do with world class standards. You can’t get to where you want to go without a goal, standards and curriculums to get there. But you have to know what standards are the best and which ones to choose because those are the key to success. If they don’t exist, you have to create them. We currently use a combination of some that exist and some we’ve had to create in our work with the transition of young professionals. What a thrill to be part of the World Series Championship team in 2016!

Being exposed to the best standards in the world was one of the best gifts I received at the beginning of my career. Once you know what excellence looks like, you don’t settle for less. Great standards are the beginning of results. You don’t have them just to fill up paper or create files. You have them to create consistency and communicate what is and isn’t acceptable.  Basically, they tell you what success looks like, which helps an organization achieve excellence. In fact, they are one of the secrets to excellence.

I have noticed that professional athletes who make it to the highest level of sport have their own personal standards. These are what keep them going. This is the true driver of “grit”, which is a popular term today that refers to mental toughness.  Toughness is only achieved by simply staying the course of a high standard of thinking.  Standards are executed by sound strategies, which are always “tweaked” through mental flexibility (i.e. adjustment). Without standards, strategies and adjustment alone have to work much harder. Standards are the key, but they must also be realistic and appropriate and part of daily work.

When I board a plane, fill a prescription, eat in a restaurant or educate a young baseball player from another country, I am grateful for the knowledge and understanding of how standards keep us safe, innovative, communicating and performing at the highest level of excellence possible.

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