Standards Part 1- Setting Standards

Posted on January 1, 2010


Having been on the topic of taking care of our team for some time, let us now move on to our expectations of them. After all, as I often like to say, ‘Welfare is our obligation to our team, just as achieving standards is their duty to the larger organisation.’ As we commit ourselves to looking after the well being of our team members, we also do need to ensure that the team produces an appropriate standard of work, right?

In this four part series, we shall dwell deeper into the mechanics of setting and enforcing standards. This first article will take us through the importance of setting standard and how should we structure the standards we set. Subsequently, we will closely examine how we can achieve buy-in and mutual agreement in abiding by the set standards in the second article. Next, the third article will uncover how we can clarify the standards we set to achieve alignment and finally, we will sum up by discussing how we can enforce the standards we set.

Standards, unlike the vision, refer more to the process rather than the results; the means rather than the end. It concerns of the ‘How’, whereas vision relates to the ‘What’. It can be seen as commonly agreed rules with regards to the quality of work that all members of a team agree upon. These regulations allow the team to produce maximum quality of work in their tasks and assignments, which in turn contributes to the higher intent and the vision of the organisation. For instance, it could be simple process-related rules like always submitting reports on time, or more outcome-oriented ones like always put customer’s interest first.

It is easy to see why setting standards are important. Crucially, having standards provide the underlying rules which create a conducive working environment which is tailored in the direction of the vision. For instance, if the vision of the team is to allow the masses to enjoy delicious doughnuts, a possible goal may be to provide good quality doughnuts, and standards may be set to use only fresh ingredients or to add the toppings generously.

In setting our standards, it is imperative for it to bear certain traits. Firstly, the standards should be clear of ambiguity. In other words, there should only be one way to interpret it with no room for doubt. For instance, “Submit the report ASAP” is subjective, but “Submit the report by eight on Monday” would be much more objective. Secondly, the standards should be achievable. “Always put the customer’s interest first” is certainly achievable, but “Always giving in to the customer” definitely is not. Thirdly, it should be aligned with the higher intent and vision. For instance, if the higher intent is to provide good service to the public, then it makes sense to always start business punctually. Lastly, standards should be binding. This means that it is agreed upon by all members of the team and they are willing to commit to abide by it. This will be further discussed in the next article.

Remember that setting standards is crucial as bedrock to support the vision. It creates the environment and the work culture for the higher intent to be fulfilled. It serves as the stepping stones for a team to climb up to greater heights. As such, it is imperative that as successful leaders and managers, we set appropriate standards for our team.

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