Peter Costa: What’s your work batting average?

Peter Costa

Someone once pointed out that baseball may be one of the few endeavors where you can fail seven out of 10 times and be considered a smashing success. Anyone who hits over .300 is a potential all-star.

Relate that statistic to our everyday work and the results are less impressive. For example, how about the car technician who installs three of the 10 lug nuts on the front wheels. I don’t think he will be headed to the pits at NASCAR.

I’m thinking what my boss would have said if I told her, “Don’t worry, I caught three out of 10 libelous statements in the story. It should be good to go.”

Or how about the dentist who filled three of your cavities but left seven others untreated?

All of which brings up the issue: What are the criteria for a job well-done?

Most of the time, there are few objective measures of work success. In manufacturing, it might be the number of units produced per day. The more made, the greater the success. But even in manufacturing, there is a difference, say, between a Honda Civic and a Rolls Royce. Sometimes form dictates worker performance.

There are thousands of jobs in which quality is less quantifiable. How does one distinguish between a song sung by Lady Gaga and one sung by Christina Aguilera? I guess heel height helps. Gaga wears taller heels.

Television programs are difficult to grade. Reality shows seem to captivate the viewing public and they probably fail to meet even fewer than three out of 10 quality measures. And what about network reruns like “Two and a Half Men?” Now every time Charlie Sheen says something it is analyzed and scrutinized to see whether it aligns with his recent bizarre behavior.

There are other performance professions like the law and teaching that are difficult to measure and ultimately reward. A brilliant closing argument is seen differently by different jurors. An imaginative teaching approach may be absorbed in various ways by different students.

These are some of the arguments we all use when annual performance reviews arrive. We tend to remember the three hits; our bosses remember the seven strikeouts. I’m told that in schools in Japan, the effort is praised more than the outcome. Students who try with everything they have are praised for their efforts. It seems to work.

But we are a less patient populace. We want the grand slam, the rout, the overwhelming victory. We just assume that people are putting in their best efforts especially in baseball. How else can one justify a $40 million-a-year salary?

Peter Costa is a columnist for GateHouse Media. His latest book of humor is “Outrageous CostaLiving: Still Laughing Through Life,” which is available at