How do we transform workplace standards?

When it comes to the workplace, Ed Lamont thinks we can do better.

It’s probably quite easy to imagine working in an organisation where people no longer respond to emails. It becomes almost ‘normal’ to have to send follow-up emails two or three times – still with no response – eventually resorting to a phone call to get a response to an issue you are working on.

If that is too far-fetched for your imagination, though, how about imagining that you work in a company where meetings all start five to fifteen minutes late, then run over time. Every time.

So you do work there?

Well, the good news is that you are not alone. The bad news, however, is that there could well be a challenge with standards in your workplace.

Working standards – or ‘the way we get things done around here’ – is about how people make themselves effective (or not) in a team capacity; rather than the traditional aspects of organisational ‘culture’, such as values, vision, history, etc.

Many leaders and HR heads are focused on culture change, when there is actually a fundamental problem of working standards across an organisation that needs to be changed to set the foundation for a flourishing ‘culture’.

An approach that not only creates space for individuals but enhances responsiveness across the organisation will lead to more and better collaboration.

In fact, it is changing what is considered ‘normal’ team standards in the domain of execution that can make a transformative contribution to the organisational culture. A question to ask is: What are the current standards for working with fellow colleagues toward agreed objectives across your organisation?

For example, is it normal in your organisation to expect a 24-hour response time for emails that you send, or is it normal to have to chase people for things you’ve asked for a number of times already? 

Is it normal to start meetings on time, with a structured agenda and a clear outcome for the meeting, or is it normal for people to consistently show up 5-10 minutes late with no clear idea why they are in the room? These are what are known as working standards.

These are simple things. So simple that one might ask why a senior leader would worry about such things. Surely these things are unworthy of the attention of senior leadership? Not exactly. These things may be simple, but they are not unimportant.

On a personal skill level, for example, learning to touch-type seems beneath consideration for many leaders of a certain age. No surprise then that they find it impossible to keep on top of the flow of communications coming at them on a daily (hourly) basis. 

They are unable to keep up because they are trying to hunt and peck their way through the day with two fingers, which is like trying to sprint with a broken foot. Not wise.

Similarly, the lack of awareness about the cost of getting simple things wrong at a team level doesn’t mean those costs don’t exist. The costs of tardy email management and low standards for meeting hygiene – to name just two components of working standards – are considerable. This is especially so when the problem is amplified because most people in the organisation are doing it.

Here are just some real-life examples of organisational ‘wish lists’ which should be fully realised across organisations:

  • Shorter email response times
  • Meetings starting on time, with clear outcomes
  • Meetings ending (on time) with trackable accountabilities for agreed projects and next actions
  • Leaders delegating sooner, and in larger chunks
  • Managers knowing what their team is working on
  • Teams being clear on what is expected of them
  • Better quality, quicker conversations about capacity and prioritisation between managers and managed
  • Getting clear on what is current by regularly getting inboxes to zero
  • More confidence in prioritisation decisions, based on regular reviews of all commitments
  • Greater ability to respond to the unplanned and unforeseen, without going into overwhelm or paralysis

When working standards are transformed on a team or departmental level, it enhances the likelihood that the organisation can use what it knows by making individuals and teams more responsive. Once individuals have a system for getting on top of their workflow, many of the bottlenecks to organisational information flow are removed or reduced, and as a result, the organisation flourishes.

At a team level, working in this way is where the benefits of collaboration can show up. It is no secret that collaboration is key to mastering the dynamic and chaotic environment that organisations now operate in. An approach that not only creates space for individuals but enhances responsiveness across the organisation will lead to more and better collaboration.

What’s more, these workplace changes can also contribute to some less tangible things which contribute to overall employee happiness, such as getting home in time to be with family members, and being more ‘present’ and less distracted or flustered. 

It isn’t a huge stretch to see how the above can start to drive key performance metrics such as higher employee engagement scores, and fewer sick days in the organisation.

It may sound utopic, but it’s not really not. With a systematic approachthose results are predictable and reliable, and can provide a considerable contribution to overall workplace productivity, employee satisfaction, and ultimately, company growth and success. 

With such economic uncertainty ahead, now is the time to be transforming the standards within your organisation to set the baseline and drive towards a productive future.


About the author

Ed Lamont is co-founder and director of Next Action Associates.


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