The Standard You Walk Past Is The Standard You Accept
In David Morrison's "the Standard you walk past is the Standard you accept" speech, the retired Lt. General talks about how sexual abuse and aggression toward women is unacceptable in the Australian Army. This quote resonates so much with today's workplace attitudes that more and more leaders are integrating it into the company's culture. Your company might not be struggling with sexual abuse, but everything that's not in the company's culture can be weeded out using this one quote.
How? Because it gets you thinking about your standards and especially, what standards will you not accept. Often businesses have some standards and policies documented but what they don't often have are the standards they will not accept. If you can communicate this early, team members can decide upfront if they want to sign up for them.
We often see traditional ones covered in policies like the Code of Conduct which covers a range of inappropriate behaviour like theft, use of drug and alcohol and confidentiality breaches which is a great start but even more than that, what are you organisation's and your leadership eccentricities around standards of work that are not a good fit? What are those things that really drive you crazy when people do them? This might be related to customer service, quality of work, presentation of materials or how people rock up to meetings.
These are often the 'small things' that build up and build and can turn into big issues quickly. These standards are also important to communicate and not 'walk past' and are often the things that really end up 'ticking' us off.
So, what are your standards you will not walk past?
A good way to look at this is by asking these two questions- what do you expect from your team and what do you tolerate from them.
What you tolerate is what you'll get and that gets engraved into the company's culture. As leaders, we are responsible for running successful organizations. We are accustomed to giving direction and are accountable for results. Yet that gap between what we tolerate and what we expect exists for all of us. A few things can lead to a bad workplace culture.
We look away. Ever have that "how did we get here" moment? The simple things you tend to ignore quickly pile up to become an irredeemable situation. The things you believe to be not such a big deal will eventually work against you. A grain of sand is nearly invisible, but in bulk it becomes a beach.
We rationalize. Do you tell yourself things like, "I don't like this and this person; I'm not that person's parent; I should empower people; I believe people will naturally do the right thing?" Our internal dialogue is based on how we want to see ourselves and the world. That dialogue is storytelling; we often tell ourselves stories that let people off the hook. Look at your story. Is it enabling people to behave badly? How does the story you tell yourself serve you?
It's the path of least resistance. Accountability takes work and it takes vigilance.
Letting things slide is easier – in the short term than holding people accountable. Creating clear guidelines, setting expectations, establishing measures, then following up is intellectual and emotional work. And it takes time. Letting your standards slide is easier.
We don't like confrontation. Everyone likes to be liked. And telling someone that they are not living up to our expectations means we risk a negative response – defensiveness, excuses, embarrassment, or rejection. When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. And many of us find that uncomfortable.
How do we get the culture we expect?
Identify essential behaviors. What do you expect of your people? Make a list detailing what you expect will help you be clear when you give direction.
Prioritize and focus. You have a limited amount of time and capacity, so focus your energy on one behavior at a time. Map the behaviors on a grid – low to high impact, vs. low to high difficulty. What is high-impact and easy to do? Start with those behaviors to establish a foundation, and then build on it.
Hold people accountable for one behavior per quarter. Research by Phillippa Lally and her team shows that it takes 66 days on average to ingrain a habit, but since business tends to run in quarterly cycles, a three-month cadence is just fine.
When you are tempted to let a bad behavior slide, ask yourself," What if everyone in the company exhibited this behavior?" If you visualize the behavior as it scales across the organization, you will see the urgency. This can be a helpful shot of motivation.
When you see the behavior that is not what you expect, ask the responsible person directly: "Why is this ok?" Help them see the gap that you see. If they don't see it, they can't close it.
Behavior drives culture. Culture drives results. You might expect performance, but in the end, you will get what you're willing to tolerate.
How To Define Standards
You have personal values, beliefs, and performance benchmarks. Your business also has these characteristics and they are referred to as company standards. Think of standards as your business personality and vision coupled with the rules you live and work by. Your small business standards will likely mirror your personal standards, and your customers, clients, and employees will form an opinion about your business and your brand based on these values.
What are standards?
Your standards define how your company acts, which, in turn, builds trust in your brand. They can be guidelines that describe quality, performance, safety, terminology, testing, or management systems, to name a few. They can comply with authoritative agencies or professional organizations and be enforceable by law, such as required medical degrees for doctors or credentials for financial planners. Or they can be voluntary rules you establish to create confidence among your clients that your business operates at a high and consistent quality level, such as a restaurant only using the highest quality, locally-sourced ingredients.
Standards must align with your mission, business objectives, leadership strategies, and be implemented consistently across your enterprise. Employees need to buy into the value of adhering to standards so everyone is pulling in the same direction and reinforcing your brand.
Controlling and measuring standards
Standards are what your business aspires to, but they don't guarantee performance. You need to create processes to control how your standards are implemented, and evaluate how they help your business grow. Written guidelines, technical specifications, product inspection processes, management and financial audits, and even customer surveys can be effective performance indicators and help you determine if you're meeting your standards, or if the standards need to be tweaked in some way.
Why Are Standards Important?
When you review your team's workplace practices, you'll consistently see your businesses making avoidable mistakes. You might have policies in place to help set the desired standards, but policies without implementation are just words. According to Tony Robinson, if you don't set a standard of what you'll accept, you'll find it easy to slip into attitudes and behaviours that are far below what you deserve.
So, why are Standards Important?
1. They set expectations
Standards allow an employer to commit to writing the company's values and mission. They also set standards of behaviour, conduct and performance for employees. As a result, policies and procedures clearly define and set the expectations for employees and provide a source of reference for employees to be able to review and check if they are meeting those expectations.
2. Keep management accountable
In addition to setting standards for employees, policies and procedures also set standards for managers of a business. This provides guidance to managers for how they are to conduct themselves and the standards they will be held to, but also provides transparency to the rest of the workforce as they can see the standards expected of their leaders and what they can in turn expect from their managers.
3. Ensure compliance with the law
Policies and procedures that are regularly reviewed and updated will assist a company in meeting its obligations at law. For instance a clear work health and safety policy will assist an employer in communicating its obligations to provide a safe workplace and how it will meet those obligations imposed on the business at law.
4. Lets employees know where to turn for help
Finally, policies and procedures let employees know where they can turn to for help. All policies should have a point of contact for queries relating to that policy so employees know who they can contact with questions. Further, policies and procedures will set out the processes and options available for how any grievance can be addressed in the workplace.
5. Creates a Stronger Identity
A company's standards form the bedrock of the company's identity. When a brand's identity is cohesive, it increases the brand's perceived value. Consistency allows your brand to appear more professional and reliable. By implementing brand guidelines, you make it easier to maintain the quality and integrity of your brand's image.
The Importance of Quality and Doing Your Best Effort
The ultimate objective for any business is to make money. If you have a product that people will buy, then you've got a business. However, the businesses that make the most don't focus on the profits alone. They also consider the quality of the products and services they offer because they know how important it is to their customers. But why does quality hold so much weight?
To answer that question, it's important to look at the definition of quality as it pertains to customers. The standard definition of the word is "the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills requirements." For customers, those requirements include the following:
Longevity – how long the product performs its function.
Needs Fulfillment – whether or not the product fulfills a specific need or solves a specific problem for the customer.
Cost vs. Need – how much the product costs compared with how much the client wants or needs it.
Security – the safety level of the product, i.e. whether or not the customer feels comfortable using it.
Usability – the ease of use associated with the product.
Efficiency – the product's ability to save the customer money, help the environment, or streamline a process.
Companies that fulfill this list often experience a multitude of benefits, but first they have to put in the effort. Here are some of the reasons why creating a standard of quality with your products is so important for keeping customers.
Higher productivity levels
When the firm realizes and follows the importance of quality management in each of its business operations, there is a rise in the productivity of the employees. They know and understand that they are working on something that is unique and high on quality, creating the need to work extra hard to match those expectations. Plus, due to the high parameters of quality, obstacles and bottlenecks are ironed out automatically, thus, increasing their productivity levels.
In niche-specific companies, using quality products to beat the competition is essential. If you're focused on selling just a few products, you need something that can set your products apart from the competition. Overall, quality always sells better than other factors, like low pricing.
For example, EarthLite, a company that sells massage-related products, has built their company on a foundation of high quality products, marketing them as handmade with eco-friendly materials that are superior to what you might find elsewhere. As a result, they've managed to claim the number one spot in massage-related retail.
At first, your customers will appreciate quality. Then, as they tell more people about it and continue shopping, they'll begin to expect such. After expectation comes a demand for quality products. And if you don't deliver, your customer will leave. When your company offers quality products every time, you can create a standard of satisfying customers in the retail spectrum. In return, you'll receive loyalty and continued lead generation that allows your company to grow.
Quality and your company's reputation are more closely linked than many businesses realize. When your products don't match the standard of quality that was promised, people will hear about it on social media, through review sites, on forums, and from their friends.
Nike is a great example of a company that links its brand reputation with the quality of their products. They've built their company on great marketing and products that stand the test of time. People know they can trust Nike and are willing to pay more because their products provide the quality they've come to expect.
Customers always come back when a product is good, even if the price is high. A quality product creates unshakeable customer loyalty that generates increased leads. When customers find a product they trust, they return, make repeat purchases, and recommend the product or service to others.
Consider Apple's success in selling more than 800 million devices to more than 130 million users in 2015. Those numbers show that customers have bought multiple products from the retailer, and they wouldn't have that kind of success if people didn't love the quality, even though their products are considerably more expensive than other options.
In the end, product quality is something companies should always emphasize. Creating quality products will continue to be the most important thing to customers. In a world where it's hard to predict the demands of customers, this is an important concept to master.
How To Cultivate Quality In The Workplace
According to Harvard Business Review, less than half of employees say their organization exhibits a culture of quality. And while the benefits of quality culture are huge, getting there doesn't happen overnight.
Instead, it requires sustainable habits that provide a foundation for long-term change. In this part of the show, we look at 7 of the most important habits of an effective quality culture.
Walk the Talk
It's a sin to think aspirational messages like "quality first" are enough to lead your organization to a quality culture. Change is only possible when leaders are engaged at every level, consistently demonstrating quality principles in action.
In practical terms, this means leaders must:
Make frequent and highly visible appearances in the office space.
Be curious and engage in non-judgmental conversations about quality.
Roll up their sleeves to help when necessary.
Avoid behavior that puts cost, output or schedule above quality.
The last point is especially important. If you say quality is the top priority, but your actions indicate otherwise, your credibility is lost.
Making Quality Everyone's Job
Ineffective quality cultures put quality in a separate silo, relegating it to no more than administrative work. Effective organizations involve cross-functional teams in quality improvement, recognizing that quality impacts every area of the business. Everyone needs to know their role in improving quality. Just as important, they need to see the results. Monthly scorecards are a key tool in showing people their work has a measurable impact.
Energize Your Team
Not everyone is going to be excited about quality or having additional work. Yet, in an effective quality culture, leaders find ways to energize the team and get people on board.
Harnessing the competitive spirit: Instead of discussing how quality drives savings, tap into people's competitive nature. Talk about blowing the competition away, or saving the company from failure in a mission, eg a critical product launch.
Making quality personal: Connect your team's work to the bigger picture. Is it protecting driver safety? Defending national security? Are my kids safe when using it? The last thing you want is people thinking they just make a widget.
Focusing on Processes
Across all industries, a culture of quality demands a proactive approach aimed at preventing problems rather than putting out fires. That's difficult when quality people only conduct rear-facing product inspections, which is why mature quality cultures look at upstream processes. The thing to focus here is checking high-risk processes before errors lead to defects. Checking and rechecking areas linked to previous quality and safety issues fosters process standardization and reduces variation. This consistency is a hallmark of quality culture.
Monitoring and Measurement
Mature quality cultures invest time and resources into proactive monitoring and measurement. It sounds obvious, yet only 1 in 3 companies track the cost of quality, one of the most important operational metrics.
Beyond just looking at failure costs, organizations must develop leading indicators that provide early warning of problems. Your metrics will be unique to your organization, but the goal is the same. When you see leading indicators slipping, you can take action before customers are affected.
When you look at companies with mature quality cultures, you'll see they don't shy away from problems. They know that finding problems before they leave the workspace is far better than having the customer discover them.
How do you create a culture of openness?
Staying calm when you discover mistakes: If you fly off the handle, people will hide problems from you.
Involving management: Having leadership participate in audits shows a commitment to quality at the highest level. That inspires people to open up with their own observations and improvement suggestions.
Quickly resolving problems: When someone identifies an issue, you follow up with timely corrective action. Otherwise, people see no point in sharing.
Companies that treat quality as a cost instead of an investment are penny-wise and pound-foolish. Conversely, mature quality cultures give their teams the time and budget to pursue quality improvement projects. That may mean cutting back the red tape, but it can also lead to huge breakthroughs.
Finally, mature companies reward these successes with recognition and even financial incentives. When employees are taking the initiative to pour their energy into these projects, you can be sure that your quality culture machine is humming along.
Companies That Focus On Quality
Jeff Bezos refers to Amazon's customers as "divinely discontent." Back in 2005, Amazon launched its Amazon Prime service. By paying an annual membership fee, customers received guaranteed two-day shipping on hundreds of thousands of products. The introduction of two-day delivery was the game-changer that established the dominance of Amazon in the online retail industry. When many other retailers started to catch up by offering their own free two-day shipping, Amazon tipped the playing surface again by offering a one-hour delivery with its Amazon Prime Now service (which it has since changed to a free two-hour delivery). The company has always made life difficult for its major competitors with its innovative strategies that focus on customer satisfaction.
UPS provides global logistics services, including transportation, distribution, ground freight, ocean freight, air freight, customs brokerage, insurance, and financing. But most people know them as the company that ships and delivers their packages. UPS offers various options to make that process quick and easy for its customers. For example:
UPS Access Point Network links with participating neighborhood businesses that will receive packages, which is particularly helpful for customers who aren't home during regular delivery hours.
With UPS Delivery Intercept, the shipper can have UPS catch a shipment prior to delivery and either return it to the sender, reroute it, reschedule the delivery, or hold it for pickup.
UPS My Choice gives the customer estimated and confirmed delivery windows, real-time delivery alerts, and the ability to track and manage multiple packages at once.
When Apple first launched their App Store, Steve Jobs didn't intend for it to be a marketplace open to third party developers. He didn't want outsiders to create applications for the iPhone that could mess it up, infect it with viruses, or pollute its integrity. However, since opening it up, it has become one of Apple's top performing products and a strong reinforcement of the sales of their hardware products – particularly the iPhone and the iPad.
To mitigate the aforementioned risks of opening up the ecosystem, Apple's App Store implemented a rigorous review process of all app builds, that often took weeks for developers to be approved. In recent years, they have shortened this timing to just a few days, but they maintain a strict review system that makes sure only certain apps are published within the store. They give feedback and demand a certain threshold to be met before an app is allowed to be there. This has fostered an aspirational element for developers who create iOS apps, encouraging them to go above and beyond to be conscious of the apps they submit so they don't have to take the time entailed resubmitting a rejected build. As a direct result of this process, there is deep trust from users who are assured that Apple won't allow apps that are harmful or particularly low quality to be offered in the store.
Both in sports and movie production, Disney's reliance on quality is proving successful. Walt Disney once said, "Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do." The company synonymous with Mickey Mouse is becoming reliant on an even bigger star to drive its bottom line: ESPN. The cable sports network is a powerhouse brand for Disney, reaching more than 100 million American homes and known for its cult following among sports fans. In total, ESPN generated at least $11.4 billion of revenue last year, which accounts for well over 40% of Disney's Media Networks segment, making ESPN one of Disney's highest-grossing businesses. Disney's obsessive focus on product quality extends well beyond sports: Its hip animated movie, Up took five years and $175 million to make, and became the sixth-biggest worldwide release in 2009. Both in sports and movie production, Disney's reliance on quality is proving successful.
Ally Nitschke is a Leadership Strategist, Courageous Conversations specialist and speaker. She has been working as a leader and with leaders for over 15 years.
She is on a mission to change the way we communicate at work, to lean into those uncomfortable conversations and lead with courage. Ally delivers Courageous Leadership Programs, Courageous Conversations workshops, Coaching, Mentoring and Keynotes. To inquire about working with you or your organisation please contact us here.