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Raising The Bar

By Kerryn Gamble


One of the biggest issues contributing to poor performance  in businesses and organisations today is the apathy surrounding standards. The way this plays out in organisations includes poor or inconsistent  sales results and team performance.


The benefit of having clearly communicated standards are many. They create a high performing culture by:

  • Providing a structure for accountability,
  • Obtaining commitment for desired behaviours regardless of pressure,
  • Providing pillars for feedback and transparency
  • Establishing consistent expectations for everyone

When there are no clear and consistent standards for the team, behaviours such as individual agendas, lack of trust, people not being accountable and water cooler talk are more prevalent. An ideal team culture is one of individual accountability, responsibility, trust and care. How do you know when you have this? Individual agendas have been eradicated and your team are looking out for each other.


Over the years and more recently with clients, I've observed how pivotal it is for the leader to set (and being a living example of) the organisational standards to create a high performance culture. While a lack of team performance may be the result of the right people being in the wrong seats or wrong people in the right seats, it's more likely from a lack of clear standards demonstrated by the leader. This in turn cultivates an attitude of "doesn't matter" and "maybe next time".



Being a leader is a privilege that comes with many responsibilities including being a role model for others, which is not the same as being liked by others. Leadership status is the difference between "being on" when it suits you, to "being on" when it doesn't. It's living your values and the behavioural standards for these, even in the face of ridicule and rejection. Living your standards consistently, every day - no exceptions, independent of pressures you may be experiencing is true self leadership and a less commonly found trait in an era of instant gratification and abundant choice. Only when you master this, have you earned the right to lead others, until then you're still following.



When a new leader is appointed or joins an organisation, the impending change can be both welcome and unwelcome. Turning the heat up and creating disruption, can be an effective way to create rapid outcomes! Change in an environment, especially rapid change may be experienced as stress, uncertainty or discomfort for some people and excitement and adventure by others.


A person  reacts to their own perceived internal pressure with one of three responses aligned with our primitive stress response. They will either:

  1. Breakthrough: step up to a higher level of functioning (fight)
  2. Plateau: continue to function in the same way, despite the situation requiring different behaviour (freeze)
  3. Reject :remove themselves from the situation to find a less challenging situation (flight)

People's behaviour in the space of uncertainty, determines their ability to grow and evolve .The antidote to managing inconsistent behaviour, is for the leader to be consistent in their behaviour and communicate to the team that these standards of behaviour are applicable in all contexts. This provides certainty for the team, irrespective of what is happening in the business.


During change, people are more likely to revert to reliance on the leader and drop their performance, this is the time to be even tougher with the standards. Acknowledging the "feelings" of uncertainty your team may be experiencing and inviting them to approach the situation together maintaining the standards, helps replace negative feelings with togetherness, adventure and certainty of what is expected from them.



Ideally the best time to introduce the organisational standards is before a person joins the team., Building a team of high performing people means hiring on attitude first and foremost even for a technical role. A person must bring the attitude that's a match for the business, then have the desirable (or be capable of developing) technical skill.



Non-negotiable standards form the basis of all recruitment decisions, team member feedback and performance management discussions. Only when you are prepared to hire and fire on these do you know you are truly living the standards, this includes firing "talented" people who put their own agenda before that of the business. Standards apply throughout the business.



The purpose of standards for any business is not about the behaviour itself, instead the purpose is about how the behaviours contribute to improving the customer experience of the business. If you want more clients or better sales results, start by reviewing the standards in your business. Standards create the context so your customers feel belonging, feel they matter and feel they're making a difference.



Let's take this for a spin using the example of an accounts department (disclaimer - I do not have an accounts department background!). The purpose of the accounts department is to assist customers and suppliers experience a smooth, easy and efficient payment process. Standards within the accounts department might include: all customer phone enquiries acknowledged within one hour, all customer email enquiries responded to fully within "X" time, all supplier invoices paid X days before the due date.



What standards can be improved to make the experience for customers and suppliers a first-rate experience? If your customers are paying on time, cash flow is up. If the business is paying suppliers on time you become more desirable to do business with -potentially creating additional business opportunities.



Business success is determined by how well you make your customers and clients feel they belong, feel significant and feel they are contributing to something worthwhile and each department within the business contributes to this experience.



 The businesses and organisations delivering outstanding performance create memorable experiences for their customer through their commitment to standards. The same businesses are easy to recall by name and to recommend to others. They are distinctive because they have and maintain high standards of performance, which it seems is not so standard!


"When you raise the bar,only those who grow will reach it"

Kerryn Gamble is the "Insightful Strategist", developing distinctive and meaningful workplaces. Find out more at To contact Kerryn, send your email

Kerryn is Vice President of Professional Speakers Australia (VIC), Chair of Thought Dynamics, Founding Director of CORE Potential and member of Australian Institute of Training & Development and International Coach Guild.