Getting 100 percent results with an 85 percent solution

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Greg Lamb
  • 8th Flying Training Squadron
Today's U.S. Air Force is lean and getting leaner.
The ops tempo doesn't offer a lot of room for catching up.
Meeting the current demands for Air Expeditionary deployments with "force reshaping" at the doorstep means continued Air Force excellence will depend on people learning and understanding the art of the 85 percent solution.
Every task and every problem servicemembers face daily has an optimum or 100 percent solution for a best result. Many would consider that excellence as an Air Force core value demands everyone provide 100 percent effort all the time to achieve optimum results. However, it simply isn't practical, and furthermore, it is possible to get acceptable results with an 85 percent effort.
One might ask what role an 85 percent solution has in achieving 100 percent success. First off, an 85 percent effort should never be confused with a lack of excellence. Additionally, many tasks and problems will always demand 100 percent effort for an optimum result. Here are a few examples of where only the perfect solution is acceptable and a few others where it makes more sense to go with the expediency of an 85 percent effort.
Bombs on-target on-time require the perfect 100 percent effort, to gain the expected result. Anything less would be disastrous. The components for success are training and adequate time for preparation. Academic exams provide another example where the effort and goal both equate to 100 percent. Administrative tasks such as performance reports and coordination of operational instructions also fall into a no-compromise category. A long lead suspense and the opportunity for proper coordination point to an expectation for perfection. Putting these things off to the point where there is only enough time to provide an 85 percent effort for a less than perfect solution is not a pattern most supervisors find acceptable.
In the flying business, impacts such as weather and equipment malfunctions often prohibit achieving the optimum result during a mission. However, if the goal is mission success, these impacts can be managed by employing rules of engagement, operational risk management, Air Force Instructions, and other operational control measures. Couple those things with timely decision making, and the result is often 85 percent effectiveness toward mission accomplishment rather than lost opportunity due to mission aborts. Similarly, many short-notice administrative requests or personnel actions demand immediate answers. Without the availability of a complete staff who is able to drop everything they are doing in order to produce the optimum result, we sometimes rely on one or two of our excellent performers to take an educated best shot at solving the problem. In this manner, a short suspense met with an 85 percent solution can be a force multiplier by leveraging talent on short notice to gain timely resolution on the problem or task. Without that kind of capability, units would be overwhelmed with things that never get done and eventually important things would slip through the cracks, producing a negative impact on the unit's overall mission.
With proper training, excellent performers must have the ability to produce 100 percent against any task at any time. That doesn't mean they will have the chance of doing so all the time. Most excellent performers know the time and coordination involved in achieving the perfect result is a luxury that cannot be counted on for every task that presents itself. Therefore, it is important for our excellent performers to know when and how to employ an 85 percent solution in order to maximize opportunity efficiently without compromising the outcome.