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How to Set and Enforce Performance Standards

Even if your company sets the standards of performance for every job and provides data on every person’s activities, you, the manager, will need to monitor the standards on a regular basis and discuss them with your team members. The ability to set and meet high standards is expected in business these days, and performance that is consistently below standards is rarely tolerated for long. The manager is the person who sets quality standards and enforces them.

If you are new to management, you probably excel at setting and meeting high performance standards for your own activities. That commitment to excellence is probably what got you promoted. Congratulations! And now you will need to ensure that all of your team members exhibit the same commitment to excellence. That isn’t quite as easy, since you are working with different jobs, different personalities, and different levels of commitment to the organization. But, of course, it can be done.

Managers who are excellent at setting and monitoring standards of performance are those who expect the best from people and make their expectations clear. They hold team members accountable for achieving to high expectations and for delivering quality results.

Managers who score low on this competency are often those who allow poor work to slide. They are aware that the team member is going through a hard time at home, or is new to the job, or is discouraged for some reason, so they fail to confront the person or deal with poor quality work. When this happens, the poor-quality work is likely to continue, and morale declines as other team members understand that poor work is being accepted.

Another way that managers might receive low scores on this competency is if they fail to provide high standards of performance to team members initially. Maybe they don’t know what good quality work looks like, or they may not track performance in any systemic way. Some people will always work to the best of their abilities, but others will slide if they are allowed to do so. As a manager, you need to be on top of the work that others do, always monitoring the quality of output and encouraging people to perform at higher levels when necessary.

If this is not an area of strength for you, consider the following points.

  • Are you setting an example of meeting your own high standards in your work? If you are taking a lengthy break from working hard, your team members are likely to recognize this and model it in their own performance. You may find production decreasing. Similarly, if you nearly always meet your own high standards, team members will see you working hard and enjoying your job, and they will model that behavior. Analyze your own behavior to see what you are modeling.
  • When you delegate assignments, make sure you also clearly explain the expected levels of performance. Write down expected deadlines and what work should have been accomplished by that date. Ask team members to keep you informed of progress to goal. Be willing to make adjustments if necessary or to insist that deadlines be met, depending on your assessment of the situation.
  • Do you compliment people for work well done? Being clear about what a person has done right will communicate that you notice what is going on in your team and that you appreciate good work.
  • If a team member continues to perform below standards, you will need to bring forward your coaching skills. Together with the person, identify the problem and the barriers to success. Set small, achievable goals and monitor them closely. Acknowledge even small movements toward meeting the goal. Only if coaching fails should your next step include disciplining the person. Make sure you have documented all of your efforts to help the person improve his/her performance before you schedule a disciplinary meeting.

People generally appreciate when others notice that they are doing good work. When that happens, they are usually willing to work even harder. If your team members understand that you are monitoring their output and appreciating their good work, everyone will be proud that the high standards you expect of your team are being met, and often they will be exceeded.