Performance standards – Rule or tool?

I’m often asked, in my role as a performance strategist, “Should our organization have performance standards in place?” 

I usually I respond with a question of my own, “Why do you ask?” 

What follows is a lengthy explanation of why they feel standards would hamper employee performance and engagement.  This says a lot about our views of standards.  

Here’s another question, if in fact the success of an organization is directly related to the performance, productivity and commitment of the employee – why would performance standards be a bad thing? While a job description tells us what to do, performance standards provide job function parameters.  

Standards are observable behaviors and actions that can be measured and coached to. In other words, they tell the employee what doing a good job looks like. 

Are you still asking rule or tool? I think you can see where I’m going here.  I believe that when done well, performance standards are a tool that provides your team with the specifics around “how to win”. 

Let’s hope we’ve hired people with the drive and desire to do a good job and succeed everyday… if not, stop reading this and find an article on “how to hire better people”. 

Performance standards can very well become a set of rules if not set up correctly with a focus on your employee experience and your member experience.  Avoid these mistakes:

  • Using job performance standards to micro-manage your team
  • Implementing new performance standards shortly before evaluations
  • Not keeping your performance standards updated and current
  • Setting unrealistic job performance standards
  • Limited creativity with tight performance standards

On the flip side, if your team understands how to win, they also know where to focus their time and efforts to achieve your credit union’s objectives.

Here are the top 6 reasons why performance standards are a highly effective tool:

  • Provides your managers with a way to measure job performance and productivity
  • Allows your employees to measure their own performance and productivity
  • Helps your team understand the expected scope, key responsibilities, required knowledge, skills and duties of the job
  • Supports equitable evaluations of all employees in the same role
  • Facilitates communication between managers and employees regarding job related activities
  • Helps managers ensure that employees have the resources necessary to do their jobs well

What happens without job performance standards?

  • Managers and employees may have a very different understanding and expectation about job requirements and performance
  • Managers may have difficulty identifying performance issues
  • Managers and employees may have difficulty separating WHAT should be done from HOW it should be done
  • Managers tend to lower expectations to avoid confronting employees with performance issues
  • Employees may protect themselves from possible failure by performing at a lower (more comfortable) level
  • Managers may coach and evaluate employees (doing the same job) differently

Where to start:

  • Define specific performance standards and measurement criteria
  • Identify the top 3-5 job responsibilities
  • Identify specific skills and knowledge needed to perform at a high level
  • Establish a method to monitor performance
  • Implement standards at the beginning of an evaluation cycle
  • Set short-term (90-day) AND long-term goals
  • Develop a plan for managers and employees to communicate on a regular basis 

When done right, setting performance standards will increase understanding of organizational objectives, empowering your team to function at a higher level and at the same time build trust and commitment to your credit union goals. This all leads to growing enthusiasm, engagement and fun!

To learn more about member experience strategies, employee engagement or organizational development, email or call 608-231-4354.

AUTHOR: Jayne Hitman, national relationship manager, CUNA Creating Member Loyalty™