Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Standards trump Policies.

What’s the difference between a policy and a standard? There’s a marked difference, and each drive very different results.

We can be provided with documented job requirements, specific project targets, or verbal direction about what is expected of us in deliverables (“Policies”). Yet, the reality of what we can get away with (“Standards”)— tend to be what some, if not most of us live by—and in some cases, strive for.

Here’s a policy vs. standard scenario that you may be able to relate to outside of the workplace, whether you have a teenager, or you’re simply remembering what it’s like to be one:

A teenager is told that midnight is his curfew. He arrived 20 minutes late so the parents had a conversation with him when he arrived home, about his behavior not being acceptable. The following weekend, he arrived late again, and the parents had another conversation reiterating the importance of being on time. In this scenario—The Policy: Be home by midnight. The Standard: If you’re late, the worst that will happen, is a conversation. Possible translation? It’s OK, and sometimes well worth it, to be 20 minutes late.

On the other hand, if the teenager were 20 minutes late, and the parents shifted his next weekend curfew to 11:40pm versus midnight, the teenager realizes that the parents are quite serious about curfew. In this case—The Policy: Be home by midnight. The Standard: Be home by midnight.

When we realize the differences between policies and standards, from a leadership or management perspective, we realize that we need to be thoughtful and purposeful about the standards that we’re setting. When we’re disappointed in, or frustrated about, someone’s repeated late deliverables, for example, we may want to ask ourselves: Has what I stated as the expectation, truly been enforced or supported? Or, more specifically: When I asked for that deliverable to hit my desk on Tuesday, and it wasn’t delivered, and I didn’t follow up with my employee for another week, could it be translated that it’s OK to deliver something a week late?

Certainly, setting standards and expectations, and engaging others to be accountable, present more complexity than this entry represents. However, as leaders, if an employee or our team is struggling with poor performance and it continues to impact desired deliverables, we may need to explore our contribution to the current situation and desired results.


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