How We Set Our Standards Matters

As parents, as coaches, as managers, as leaders we all have certain things that we value and expect from the people who are looking to us for leadership. Often we refer to these values as our ‘standards’ whether they be for performance, obedience, action, follow through, etc. How we set these standards matters in respect to how successfully they are met. But how do we define these standards? Where do they come from? More importantly, how do we put standards in place that people will actually adhere to?

I would like to offer 3 tips for setting standards that will be upheld no matter what role you are in.

Keep it simple – The first one is pretty basic. Make sure that your standards are simple. Simple means easily explained. The more complicated the standard, the less likely it is to be lived up to. You should be able to explain it clearly and articulately to your people. “But my standards are complicated. We have a very technical environment. Our team deals with high-level information. The safety standards include so many steps, the manual is 3 inches thick!” Ok. Break it down into steps. Have simpler standards that combine to your overall standard. The activities that we want to be held as a standard must be actionable and realistic. Unrealistic standards will frustrate your people so quickly. Not only that, but unrealistic standards get talked about. Or worse yet (but a better way to say it) they get complained about. Just as quickly as people get frustrated, the complaints spread and morale goes down.

Let’s look at an example of the impact this has.

A child who’s parent has high, unrealistic, complicated standards for behavior is defeated. They feel like they can’t live up to the expectations and are constantly letting down their parents. It could be hard for them to take on new challenges or push themselves to try new things. If left in that environment long enough it can have long term effects on their self-value. You can take that example and replace the word child with employee or team member and get the same results. If the standards are too high, you get underachievement and loss of confidence or high turnover. There is a flip side to this that if your standards are too low, you will see complacency and lack of drive which as a similar effect on morale and drive.

Know the WHY – Standards are most effective when the purpose is well known. People are motivated by WHY. Simon Sinek talks about the power of WHY in his TED talk. It’s a must watch for any leader.

The purpose of your standard should drive the definition. It puts value on the standard. With value placed on the standard the result is that much more satisfying and it creates buy-in for the people expected to meet it. They will likely be motivated to not only meet that standard, but exceed it because they are now invested in the outcome and understand it’s impact.

Tell Show Observe Verify – In order to ensure people truly understand the expectations placed on them, it’s important to follow this simple model.

First Tell them what is expected. Clearly articulate the standard, being sure to explain the why behind it and the impact it has.

Now Show them what you mean. This may be doing sales calls with them, leading a meeting, or developing a report. For kids, it means showing them how the chore needs to be done or how quickly you would like them to respond when you call. With each example, you must model how to perform the task/behavior at the level you expect. People will do what you show them. Keep in mind that your standard is what you’re willing to accept.

Next, Observe them performing the behavior at the standard level you model and expect. Provide feedback and coaching. This is your time to make sure they really understand what the standard is and fine tune their performance.

Finally, Verify that they are performing at the standard level. Come back after some time has the past and observe again. Ask people who are close to their work. Follow up with one of their customers or review survey data. Or simply go check their work. We need to inspect what we expect!

This is not a time for shaming when you find that the standard hasn’t been met. Rather it’s a time to praise when you find the standard has been met and reward when the standard has been exceeded. If you find the performance lacking, this is a coaching opportunity. Ask questions. Find out why they missed the mark. Encourage them.

Love your people and set them up for success by providing realistic standards that have a true purpose and value. Then hold them to it.


Post also found on LinkedIn and Medium