Keith R Szewczyk

Managing Performance: Set the Standards and Expectations

In Performance Management on February 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm

by: Keith R. Szewczyk

The objective of a great leader is to not only achieve a high performing organization in the short term, but to create a long term culture of high performance that sets a continuous expectation. This expectation is developed from a set of standards that the leader creates, which defines what and how the organization shall operate. Once the organization begins to succeed and a culture generates a sense of pride the culture will produce a unique brand that will attract top quality into the organization.

The best organizations have leaders who understand that to be successful you must create an understanding by which the organization must stick to the policies and processes. An ad hoc environment removes clear accountability and clouds the lines of responsibility. Policies and processes define the levels of accountability and expectations, where growth paths are clearly understood within the organization with a measurement that is continuously rising upwards.

An executive is responsible for generating the framework for which their organization shall operate within. This framework must demonstrate what the executive leader expects from the organization. They must define the framework as a high level model of a successful operation, and allow the middle management to define the details. The details must change as the business grows over time, as well as when the trends within the industry or technology change. Therefore, it is important to create a culture that has autonomy within the framework such that they will innovate and generate a competitive advantage over time.

Continuous change at the detail level is a must in order to maximize efficiencies, but a great vision will drive a framework that must be stable. Stability within the framework means that an executive leader has defined the company’s DNA, which will continuously produce the correct skill sets in order to deliver high performance. This stability over time with continuous success begins to create an expectation, which develops a level of quality and performance that produces continuous results.

One great example of an organization that has generated a culture of high standards and expectations are the Pittsburgh Steelers. There leadership is consistent within the framework they operate, 1) strong defense is how they build their core competencies and 2) no-one, no matter who you are, shall put themselves higher than the team. Though the skill sets, the processes, the policies change over the decades based on the environment changing, their framework holds true decade after decade. Stability and consistency allows the Pittsburgh Steelers to be the organization that others envy and want to mimic.

Here are some guidelines to setting a high level of standards and expectation:

  • Generate a framework that states how the organization will operate, and form the company’s DNA.
  • Communicate the framework and grow the operational brand that the employees can resonate with.
  • Use the framework to understand who fits into the organization. Not every superstar fits into the framework, so don’t go after every superstar. Get the right people with the right skills for the framework.
  • Align the framework to the vision, and the details to the strategy. Once your vision and framework are set leave them alone and start to build your strategy and process. If your vision and framework are correct then stability of who you are will allow you to be flexible in defining and improving the strategy and processes.

A mature organization who understands and respects their vision and framework will demand a high standard and expectation of success without saying so.

Have you developed a highly performing organization by setting the standards and expectations?

  1. Organizational leadership is the critical stakeholder for developing an organizational culture that supports the company’s business vision. Another guideline that senior leaders and operational managers need to pay attention to is what they reward. The management saying that “you get what you reward” is very true. By rewarding the wrong managerial and employee behaviors, organizational leadership can unintentionally create a culture that undermines what they say they want the organization to achieve.

    For example, senior leaders can speak of values of integrity and teamwork but they might reward a high performing manager who is known for engaging in the exact opposite behavior. By rewarding this manager (instead of holding him/her accountable for their undesired behavior, senior leaders create “organizational culture confusion.” Their words do not match their actions. The message to the rest of the organization is that self interest and destructive competitive behavior are what is really valued and what others need to do to get ahead. This can be unintentional and another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    Senior leaders also have to reinforce the organizational culture they desire by ensuring that they are rewarding the right corporate behavior. When they do otherwise, they harm the culture they are trying to create.

    • Rewards and recognition is a very critical part of the communication plan. However, as you stated, get this wrong and you will fail in delivering your vision and strategy. I have seen leaders incorrectly rewarding behaviors that left the rest of the culture confused with the leaderships direction. The adverse effect of this practice causes turnover and a very disjointed vision and strategy. Your comment also supports what I stated abut superstars. If they don’t fit the vision and framework, then you can’t afford to have them. This is where you owe it to the rest of the organization to make sure you hold true to your framework and reward the correct behavior openly and remove the misaligned assets. When it comes down to making tough decisions, the success of the company balances on these decisions. Stick to your framework and create the culture that will be successful in delivering the vision.

      Robert, thanks for your great input!

  2. Keith – Great post and insight. You said it, it’s the continual communication and consistent messaging is what sets that DNA. From there, it rolls to individual goals that align with the DNA, then the it belongs to the manager and employees connecting to provide feedback on if the employee is meeting, exceeding or falling short. Performance Management is a year-round thing! Thanks again for the insight and perspective.

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