As a Leader, clear performance standards are your best friend. Memorable and meaningful standards are linked to the rationale that created them. The “why” behind the standard must be tattooed on the brain of every team member. Effective Leaders link expected behaviors and tasks to standards by talking about the relationship dozens of times a week.
Performance standards differ from goals. Standards are completely within our control. Goals are mostly, sometimes only partly within our control. When your team knows the standards they are to achieve, and when they have effective training in support of those standards, your work as a Leader is made less complicated. In the absence of such standards, inconsistency reigns and strong personalities are in charge. Have you been there? I have. It’s no fun.
Whenever conflict arises, check to see if you have clear standards that inform the conflict. If not, create them, test them and implement away! Then, if clear standards exist, use them as the arbiter of the conflict.
All good performance standards have many of the following ten characteristics:
Clear performance standards are easy to understand. They contain concise terminology and leave no question as to their essence. Everyone knows exactly what the standard is and how to achieve it.
Clear performance standards are directly related to the explicit values of the organization. It is easy to see how the standard expresses one of your organization’s core values.
Clear performance standards relate directly to the mission. The organization’s mission should be a realistic, concise, and focused statement of the purpose of your work. The mission should be able to be accomplished. It differs from an expansive vision statement in that everyone should be able to say how they accomplish it daily. Performance standards are the leading measurements of the work of the mission.
Clear performance standards must be supported by tools and technology. Standards that are not are incredibly frustrating. If tools and technology create unnecessary friction in the work, or if the processes are not lean, the standards are less meaningful. l They become a joke to the team.
Clear performance standards are measurable. Performance measurements must be consistent and easily captured. They must occur regularly and as close to the point of the performance as possible. Measurements that report performance from last year, last month or last week are much less helpful than those that report my performance in real time. Think of the difference between a bathroom scale and a Fitbit. The scale measures what happened in the past, one donut at a time. The Fitbit measures activity as it happens, at the source.
Clear performance standards measurements must inspire confidence. The measurements themselves must be reliable and meaningful. We need to trust that the numbers are accurate and that they measure the right things. This inspires confidence. Think carefully about how you measure success. Most team members love keeping score but loathe doing so about things that don’t matter or in an unreliable manner.
Clear performance standards are attainable. Most team members are able to attain the standards all the time. Carefully reserve 100% standards for those themes where absolute achievement is essential. Set 90% standards, or year-over-year improvement standards, for the rest.
Clear performance standards are trainable. Your training approach can replicate the skill in anyone you hire, regardless of aptitude, personality or haircut. Never hold the team to a standard that is not supported by training. Expecting the team to learn it on their own means it is a performance goal rather than a standard. If standards are not being met, look first to training. It is likely your solution will be found there.
Performance standards are consistent. As you develop and use clear performance standards, ensure the supervisory team uses them consistently. Inconsistency about performance standards is incredibly frustrating, especially to high performers.
Finally, clear performance standards are not in conflict with one another. If achieving one performance standard makes it impossible to achieve another, neither will work. Look closely at conflicts and resolve them.
Once you have clear and meaningful performance standards, your entire work as a leader gets easier. All challenges are met in the context of these standards.