Organization & Leadership Consulting

Non-Sloppy Standards of Performance

Messy desk of employee with sloppy standards of performances

When it comes to accountability around clear performance expectations, it makes sense to set up some standards of performance to follow. But deciding on this standard isn’t really a one-and-done type of task. It takes time, careful planning, and many human, emotional factors need to be taken into account. Rushing through the process almost always leads to standards of performance that are, well, just sloppy.

Some examples of sloppy performances

What comes to mind when you imagine the following scenarios?

  • A one-year-old eating her first chocolate cake with frosting…
  • An over-involved, on-the-go 15-year-old’s bedroom…
  • Soccer practice for seven-year-olds…
  • A junior-high cafeteria after a food fight…
  • Your own garage, basement, attic, or shed…

What are some commonalities of those mental images? Here are a few ideas:

  • Ideally, there is a place for everything and everything in its place.
  • This also means there are places in which certain things do not belong.
  • There are inherent expectations of each person involved. Some expectations are inherently lower than others, for good reason.
  • The capacity for performance is not dependent on the task but on the person(s).
  • Some behaviors are the result of unclear or under-enforced boundaries.
  • The degree of emotional distress correlates to the perceived importance of the outcome. 

The scenarios above were chosen to generate images of sloppiness. I’m sure you can think of many sloppy examples and possible responses to each.

Whatever the scenario, you may be certain there are at least two levels of response.

One is the practical, “Now we need to do ______.” The other is an emotion (or two…or more). Quite often, the approach taken to the practical response is shaped significantly by the emotional. If this is done without a reasonable amount of self-awareness and self-control, the result will be an increased degree of sloppiness, even if it appears (or is hidden) in an area other than the initial disorder.

Healthy accountability places demands on those tasked with the actions to take and on those expecting the action (or behaviors).

A few things to consider when developing “neat and tidy” Standards of Performance

  • Be reasonable. There is no such thing as being 100% neat and tidy.
  • Discuss together what the task or behavior actually looks like in real life. (Assume not.)
  • Determine how well equipped and prepared the “doer” is for the task/behavior.
  • Agree on how much help will be provided, by whom, and under what circumstances.
  • Negotiate check-in points, dependent on timeframes, skill levels, resources, etc.
  • Document all mutually arrived at expectations. Include images or examples. 
  • Pause at frequent intervals and ask, “What do I know that I assume the Other knows?”
  • Agree to evaluation as normal and mid-course corrections as necessary.

As with any set of behaviors or activities, there is a place for everything and everything in its place…most of the time. At other times it can be good to appropriately and respectfully disrupt the “everything in its place” aspect. This works best when an emotionally intelligent consideration is given to the relationships involved and the spoken and unspoken expectations inherent in them.

Sometimes sloppiness appears in the tangible outcomes. Sometimes it is less visible because it’s in the intangible emotional dynamics. Either way, it can be identified and respectfully addressed. Each requires its own form of humility, courage, and caring…for task and relationship.

TurningWest – Your Guide to a healthy culture and meaningful results, knows how to help leaders, teams, and organizations determine root causes of sloppiness and navigate productive, dignified ways of getting closer to “neat and tidy” standards of performance.


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