Imagine that you are overseeing the yard, and you check the delivery schedules to find out that your on-time deliveries have been steadily decreasing over the past four months. Now it's time for yet another talk with Sam, your yard manager. As the owner, you approach Sam and say, “Our delivery times are a problem, Sam. I can't tolerate this much longer. We need to get the loads out quicker, and our current scheduling is just not good enough. Either you figure out how to coordinate the deliveries better, or I'll find someone who can.”

You walk away thinking you have taken steps to solve the problem, but Sam is thinking, “What does he mean ‘not good enough?' He wants me to improve our delivery scheduling, but he doesn't tell me by how much, or what he wants, or how much sooner he wants the trucks on the road. I don't get it.”

The bottom line: You may think that you motivated Sam to increase productivity, but the conversation has only made matters worse. Sam is now more confused than ever. So where did you go wrong and what could you do better to clearly state your expectations and get Sam back on track?

The answer: You failed to set clear standards of performance. A standard is defined as the minimum acceptable level of performance. And the key word here is minimum. By no means does this imply that any manager or owner should set low standards of performance. Rather, they must set high performance standards that are challenging, attainable, and reasonable. Within these bounds, a manager can set standards in one or more of the following four areas: quality, quantity, time, or cost.

Why are standards so important? Having spent 20-plus years in home building, leadership training, and consulting, I can attest that as much as 50 percent of employee non-performance or non-compliance issues are due to either: a) unclear standards, b) poorly communicated standards, or c) not holding people accountable to the standard.

Most employees want to do a good job—they just need to know how well they are expected to do it!

Let's revisit the opening scenario, but this time with a clear standard in place. This time you might say, “Sam, you know our standard for on-time deliveries is 95 percent. We are running at 93 percent, and that's 2 percent below our goal. How can we get that number back up?”

Now the conversation is directed toward the standard and not the owner's temperament that day. Sam has a clear set of performance criteria upon which he can measure his own performance, even when the owner is not there!

To adopt and use this approach, you need to ask yourself:

  • Where is our performance the weakest?
  • Do we have clear, reasonable, yet challenging standards of performance in these areas?
  • Do all employees understand the standards?
  • Are we consistently holding employees to the standards?
  • If you answered “No” to any of the above questions, it's time you set clear performance standards for yourself and your team. When you do, don't be surprised when you see increased motivation and productivity. This always happens when you take the time to clear the fog. —Dr. Jim Harris is a speaker, author, and seminar leader who consults with companies on how to achieve great results and grow great leaders. 877.638.7733