Performance and behaviour in many organisations are not managed well. The common missing ingredient in managing performance and behaviour is the absence of enforced standards.

We are confronted almost daily with stories of IT project overruns and outright failures, public service procedural errors with dire consequences to individuals or quality and service errors resulting in unhappy customers. We are also confronted with examples of poor behaviour from sports people struggling with fame to senior executives defrauding their staff or their shareholders.

The consequence to an organisation of poor performance of employees, at any level, is low productivity, high rework rates, higher risk and consequently, higher costs to achieve the outcomes required from any given role.

The consequence of poorly behaving employees is increased risk with significant negative potential for an organisation’s brand and its health safety, security and environment performance.

Most of the poor performance and poor behaviour occurs simply because it is tolerated.

From my observations, the tolerance comes about for the core reason that there are no enforced standards.

In the absence of formal enforced standards, people apply their own standards using their best efforts to complete a role. The standards used are formed from previous experience in the role or, a similar role, or if they are new to a role, from their personal values. These personal values are generated from their upbringing at home, their school, sporting teams and other social interactions.

The values are also generated from interactions with opinions from the media.

Those interactions with the media are now likely to be with sources constructed to be popular rather than a well thought out editorial or journalistic piece. For example, tabloid newspapers, popular magazines, TV shows increasingly of the contrived reality type and web based interactions such as forums and blogs.

The impact of personal interactions on values, it seems to me, is increasingly being tilted to these popular sources. The norm for behaviour is more that of the subjective norm within people’s social groups rather than that of other formal standards.

Realigning people’s standards away from the popular culture norms to those required by an organisation to execute their strategies and maintain their brand positioning is more necessary than ever.

The realignment of standards can be accomplished in four steps.

Write standards

The first step, not surprisingly, is to write standards. Standards of performance should take the form of an action and an object of the action with accompanying measures that tell us whether the action has been completed satisfactorily.

For example, answer the telephone in three rings. Or attend a minimum of ten board meetings. Or unload a truck, without incident, within one hour, 80% of the time and with ninety minutes 100% of the time.

Note in the last example, a qualifier “without incident” was given. One might also add conditions to standards. For example, “When the front office is fully staffed, check in will be completed, without complaint, within three minutes on 90% of occasions and within five minutes on 100% of occasions.” The condition is, “When the front office is fully staffed”.

Standards of behaviour are more likely to be written into policies or codes of behaviour. For example, “Directors will declare all pecuniary interests in the pecuniary interest register.” Or “All employees will act in a safe manner at all times at work, travelling to and from work and when representing the company”. Or “All employees will refrain from behaviour which causes offence to customers, suppliers, the general public and colleagues at all times”.

Communicate standards

The likelihood of anyone adhering to standards if they have not been communicated well is zero. The standards can best be communicated, at first, by involving people in their construction.

When the standards are completed, communicate them repeatedly in different formats. Do not fall into the trap of using text only means of communication. A large majority of any organisation’s employees will require visual or auditory means of communication to “get it”.

Test people to make sure that the communication has got through and they understand the standards.

Enforce standards

Creating standards without enforcing them is a waste of time and effort. As soon as one person is seen to be not behaving or performing within the standards with no action taken, the subjective norm will turn to standards not mattering.

Integrate standards with your reward and recognition system, appraisal system and recruitment methods.

Ensure that standards created for completing appraisals and managing performance are, in turn, enforced.

Review and update standards

Involve your people in reviewing the suitability of standards. Not all standards will withstand the scrutiny of application without modification and all standards will need to change over time as the environment in which the organisation operates changes.

Demonstrating a willingness to adjust standards to make them work to execute the strategies of the organisation will generate buy-in from your people.