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Standards and Expectations Warning Flag 1 – Standards Creep

StrategyDriven Standards and Expectations Warning Flag articleHave you ever been confronted by a customer’s challenge that your product or service quality just isn’t what it used to be? Or notice the number of quality defects in your products or services has somehow increased over the past months, quarters, or years? Or felt so much pressure to get something done that you deemed the quality to be ‘good enough for government work?’

All of these are signs of standards creep; not a beneficial raising of the bar but rather an allowance of ever worsening performance.[wcm_restrict plans=”25541, 25542, 25653″]

Standards creep occurs for any of a number of reasons, many of which seem justified at the time of the initial allowance for substandard performance. As time goes one, these types of allowances become easier to make and more frequently made – they become the new norm. Thus, standards creep typically occurs over extended periods of time.

Regardless of why it happens, this unintended, undesired, and frequently unnoticed lowering of performance and quality standards inevitably becomes self evident in an organization’s products and services; placing at risk the company’s financial performance as well as its reputation. While not all inclusive, the four lists below, Process-Based Warning Flags, Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors, Potential, Observable Results, and Potential Causes, are designed to help organization leaders to recognize whether their performance and quality standards have or are at risk of declining over time. Only after a problem is recognized and its causes identified can the needed action be taken to move the organization toward improved performance.

Process-Based Warning Flags

  • standards are vaguely or undefined
  • standards are not well documented or easily located and retrieved
  • communications programs, such as a required reading program, does not exist or do not adequately ensure employee awareness and understanding of performance standards and expectations
  • compliance with performance and quality standards are not tracked with mechanisms such as performance metrics
  • training programs do not routinely reinforce all of the organization’s performance standards and expectations
  • reinforcement programs, such as a management observation program, either does not exist or does not adequately cover the broad spectrum of organizational standards
  • adherence to performance standards and expectations is not incorporated into the organization’s performance appraisal system

Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors

  • executives and managers do not make the time to observe in-the-field work and reinforce performance expectations; they seldom practice management by walking around
  • executives and managers do not demand or focus on performance measures reflective of the organization’s adherence to performance standards
  • executives and managers do not routinely include the discussion of organizational performance standards in their communications
  • executives and manager often accept performance that is slightly below the established standard
  • executives and managers provide only positive or superficially constructive feedback
  • executives and managers seldom provide feedback outside of routine performance review periods

Potential, Observable Results

  • human performance error rates increase
  • rework rate increases
  • product and service quality defect rates increase
  • warrantee repair costs increase
  • product returns increase
  • customer support center calls increase
  • customer satisfaction ratings decline
  • sales, particularly for high-end products and services, decline
  • overall financial performance declines

Potential Causes

  • executives and managers are uncomfortable with confrontation and so do not aggressively reinforce organizational standards
  • executives and managers don’t feel the routine reinforcement of standards is important
  • executives and managers assume employees understand what is expected of them and so don’t believe it is necessary to document and make easily accessible specific performance guidelines
  • executives and managers feel overwhelmed by administrative work and prioritize in-the-field observation of work and reinforcement of standards as being of secondary importance
  • executives and managers accept substantial performance because they feel it is expedient to do so
  • managers function as ‘working managers’ and therefore do not reinforce those performance standards that make their work perceivably difficult (see Management and Leadership Warning Flag 1 – Working Managers)

Final Thought…

Product and service quality is often viewed as a marketplace differentiator. Therefore, many organizations continually seek opportunities to improve quality across the entire spectrum of offering characteristics. Subsequently, those organizations not continuously raising their standards are frequently perceived to be allowing the downward creep in the quality of their offerings. Thus, standards creep can be actually realized through a decline in performance or perceptibly realized when standards improvements do not keep pace with those of competitors.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember plans=”25541, 25542, 25653″]


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