In the Leading People Series, we examine some key points to consider when leading people. Part 5 is about the need for a leader to always uphold a high bar when it comes to standards and expectations.
A leader must always set a very high bar when it comes to both standards and expectations. The first step is to set and establish the standards and communicate the expectations. The standards can be documented in policies and procedures and standard operating procedures (SOPs), and to be effective should be implemented wherever possible with use of visual controls. The team needs to be trained on the standards and a part that is often forgotten or overlooked, the standards must be audited frequently to ensure sustainability and for immediate correction when deficiencies are found.
Most leaders understand the importance of standards and for setting high expectations, however, two points often neglected are:
1) Maintaining and enforcing high standards and expectations in times of significant organizational busyness and stress.
Standards are very difficult to put in place and uphold, but virtually impossible to restore if they are forgotten, ignored or excused when times are tough or challenging. Instead of being standards, they become occasional initiatives or pet peeves that leaders sometimes enforce when they have time or are having a bad day. In so doing, we train our teams that it is okay, to ignore or even break standards, when we don’t have time for them. Most importantly, when the organization is in this state, this is when the standards and expectations are needed the most to overcome the challenges faced and be successful.
2) A Leader must always lead by example by following the standards and having higher expectations of themselves than that of their team.
I’ve been told many times that I’m relentless about standards and that I have unrealistic expectations. Perhaps. However, I see this as a leadership strength. No one will take a leader seriously or have respect for them if they do not follow the standards which they create and enforce. A leader must also resist the urge to break standards or make special exceptions for yourself.
Shortly after joining a new company as a VP where I worked within a high security facility, I was told by the Security Manager that company policy would allow me to by-pass security when exiting the facility. All other employees had to go through a rigorous security check not dissimilar to that at an airport anytime they exited. I was shocked that there would be a company policy that would allow executives to by-pass security, however, I never did. Not even once. Why? If the standard was that all of my team had to do this, and if I expected them to do so, how could I not do it myself? Your team is always watching and they will see when you don’t follow the standards.
For more on leading by example, visit a previous post, Can Police Use Handicapped Parking Spots?.
For more on standards, visit a previous post, Who the heck needs standards?
Standards are also a necessity before kaizen. Without standards, kaizen is not possible because there is no defined starting point from which to improve the process or situation.
How do you set a high bar for standards & expectations with your team?