Thursday, April 22, 2010

When Acceptable is Not Acceptable

Work place standards v. what we really want to happen

Recently I was leading a workshop on skills and process to address poor performance and defined the trigger for initiating the process as performance or behaviour that is “below acceptable standards”. We talked about the usual things like ensuring that people knew what the acceptable standards were and how they were measured. This led to an interesting discussion on standards - how they get set and how to change them, and if that is possible in their environment - in this case, healthcare.

What happens when the standard in practice, or the desired standard, is higher than the espoused standard? How does a leader evaluate a person’s skills and performance when there is more than one standard in play?

Two situations were of particular interest – I’m sure there are more – and generated a whole bunch of questions that were outside the scope of the workshop.

1. Work standard may not be a “standard of excellence”

For example, in hospitals taking 2 attempts to start an IV meets acceptable standards. Wouldn’t the standard of excellence be “first time”? Employee may never get an IV started on the first attempt and as long as they always get it going on the second attempt they are performing to standards. I know which one I would prefer as a patient.

2. Team norm is higher than the work standard

For a team engaged in the pursuit of high performance, how do new team members understand that although there is a work standard, they are expected to perform above it? What can the leader do if they don’t?

In both cases, it makes it harder for team leaders to work with an employee that performs to “work standard” without any attempt to meet the higher standard. If they don’t address it there is a chance that the lower standard will become THE standard if other team members become discouraged.

What advice would you give the leader to help them engage the “acceptable” performer while still supporting the higher standard?

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