‘Don’t let the best you have done so far be the standard for the rest of your life.’
- Gustavus Swift
The above quote is interesting from several perspectives:
- Having a standard is better than having no standard at all.
- What one did yesterday is at least a form of benchmark to measure incremental progress against which is a key definition of success.
- However, what you did yesterday is only an incremental standard that may not may not be the standard for the rest of your life. How high should you aim, and will you even reach nirvana is an interesting question.
I recall some time ago when I commenced my journey into leadership coaching I was having a conversation with my then mentor. I posed the following question to him.
‘John, you have been around professional coaching for some time now, what would you say is the single most important thing a company can do to turn their performance around’?
He reflected for a moment and then said, ‘raise their standards.’ I must admit that reply took me somewhat by surprise as I was expecting more of a more contemplative and lengthy response. However, I came to warm to both the simplicity and wisdom in that reply.
It has been my experience over years of performance and business coaching to realise how so much potential is lost in business through the lack of standards.
Key Observations Concerning Standards
At this point I will clarify what I mean by a standard and then provide three key observations related to my experience. Firstly, a standard is an expectation of a performance around a certain defined activity within a business. Generally speaking, that could relate to some aspect of performance, behaviour, or quality.
For example, a standard around Quotes may be something like ‘all quotes are to be acknowledged immediately upon receipt and responded to in full within 24-72hrs dependant on levels of complexity’.
A company may have something like something like 150 core business activities that drive performance and based on that would need 150 clearly defined standards. Now to my three observations:
- There are businesses that lack any form of documented performance standards. Instead, its left to a combination of common sense, intrinsic knowledge or at worst, assumption.
- Some businesses have them, but they are poorly documented and open to interpretation, and therefore misinterpretation.
- Of those business that have them, they are often not well communicated within the company and or lack accountability in terms of monitoring for compliance.
It should come as no surprise to learn that this an area I focus on as a priority within a business in terms of looking for improvement opportunities.
Process in Documenting Standards
The process I use to document standards is to break the business down into its core functions like Planning, Operations, People, Administration, Finance, Accounting, Marketing, Sales, Customers, Distribution, Performance Management, Quality, and Technology etc.
Under each core function the next step is to identify the major tasks and then proceed to document/wordsmith the ideal outcome/benchmark, or standard for each task. Once completed you will have 150 or so standards upon which you can measure, benchmark, and then close the performance gaps within your business.
In summation, I recommend this as an extremely helpful process and excellent starting point for any journey of continuous business improvement.
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