The Finish Line Does Not Tell the Whole Story

by Dr. Scott Andersen in , ,

The finish line does not tell the whole story. Sometimes the starting line tells a better story. Sometimes the journey in between tells the story. And quite frequently, all three used together, tell the most complete story.

 Getty Images

Getty Images

Unlike an Olympic 100m sprint, not all of our talent has the same set of starting conditions. For instance, if I were to race Usain Bolt, I would like to start at the 95th meter. Even then, it would be a challenge to beat him to the finish line. But if I were to actually beat him in that unfair race and we were ONLY looking at the finish line, then we might very errantly conclude that I was faster than Bolt. Let me be perfectly clear…I AM NOT!

It means that we sometimes have to look at growth over a time period, as opposed to simply looking at some pre-constructed finish line or business goal.

Another analogy that can be used to illustrate this point is the use of standardized testing to measure student knowledge and/or teacher efficacy. An illustration is below.


Teacher A has a 3rd grade class of students who all read on the 3rd grade level. Teacher B has students who all read on the 6th grade level but are in the 3rd grade like the others. At the end of the year the students are tested again and Teacher A’s students are now on the 5th grade level and Teacher B’s students are still on the 6th grade level.

In this oversimplified example, by only looking at the grade level designation results from the year end test, or the “finish line”, one might conclude that Teacher B’s students are smarter, or on a better track and/or that Teacher B is a better teacher. After all, her students are one grade level ahead of the others.

But that would be totally wrong. 

What teacher would you want your child to have, Teacher A or Teacher B?

As a business leader, as you are identifying, developing, recruiting and retaining the best talent you can, it is important to look deeper than just the finish line results. It requires more thought, insight, analysis, observation, multiple measures and a good look at growth or progress over time.

It is likely that you have both Teachers A and B in your organization. You probably also have a Teacher Z. Whatever that is. 

Since your people are, or at least should be, your greatest asset, doesn’t it make sense to resist the temptation to only look at the finish line? By so doing, the greatest risk is that you’ve spent some time validating that those who crossed first did an excellent job. However, you may also discover that you have some unknown, untapped, or emerging talent that can take your organization to the next level.

Finally and selfishly, we can help ourselves cross the finish line first, or faster than before, by better identifying and recognizing the talent in our organizations. In business and in education, we MUST be able to better recognize talent.