Defining performance standards improves employee satisfaction.

There is an old story told about a company operating in the steel industry back in the 1980s in Pittsburgh.

The night shift came in to find the number “22” written in yellow chalk on the floor of the shipping docks. The crew looked at each other, not knowing what it meant.

They finally decided it must be the number of pallets of steel the day shift produced. The workers didn’t find this particularly challenging, so they went to work with a goal—to produce more than 22 pallets. Well, they did, producing 28. Someone wiped out the “22” and wrote “28” in its place.

Of course, the day shift came in and thought about it and came to a similar conclusion. After about 10 days the number of pallets produced had risen to exceed “44” on each shift!

The side story is that this plant was going to be shut down because it was not productive enough. But had both shifts been able to deliver 44 pallets consistently, the plant never would have closed.

Everyone lost, didn’t they? The company, the employees, and all of the customers lost because there had never been a production standard developed.

So What Is a Good Job?

In all my training classes I now ask: “How do you know when you’re doing a good job?”

The answers I get are troubling. Few people have clearly defined roles and responsibilities and fewer still have performance standards. Don’t you find that disturbing?

I believe that everyone wants to do a good job. It’s a fundamental truth. Yet how do we know when we’re doing a good job?

In his book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Patrick Lencioni lists the three signs as anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability. And don’t go looking up that last word, because he made it up.

There is actually another fundamental truth. Most people leave their jobs because of the boss. That’s right, the boss. Not money, not working conditions, not anything else—the boss.

Most bosses are also trying to do a good job. They recognize management and supervision is a responsibility and not just a privilege. They also recognize you don’t manage people, but you lead people while managing processes.

But how well do bosses know each employee? How anonymous do the employees feel? How irrelevant do they feel their jobs truly are? Or do they understand where their job function fits into the overall scheme of things?

And then we come to the magic question: How can employees measure their own individual performance on a daily basis?

It’s really quite simple. Everyone needs to feel a sense of accomplishment. Everyone needs to feel they make a difference. They make a mark.

So if that’s what employees want—to feel good about themselves and their work—why don’t we give it to them? Well, too many people think it’s too complicated.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Businesses are in place to satisfy a customer need and to do it better than the other people who are already doing it. Sometimes they create something new and exciting. But for most of us, it is a job.

On the Web site there is a wonderful talk by Simon Sinek, “How great leaders inspire action.” He talks about why people do what they do, and it is not about money, which is a result of working. He says we need to inspire people to work.

So how do we do that?

There are financial measures, gross revenue, gross profit, expenses, and operating income. These things are important, but I wonder if they move people to do a better job. Then there are asset measures such as inventory turnover or fill levels and return on capital.

There are production measures such as productivity, sales per employee, and lost time.

There are measures everywhere if we just look.

Ask the Employees

So where do you start? How about sitting down with your employees and having a discussion about what they believe is important.

They know the work better than anyone else. And if they don’t know the job, I wonder who does. Asking them what is important is a critical step in leadership. After you do so, open it up for the rest of the discussion. Talk about how different people define success at things they do. Involve everyone.

How will employees know when they are ultimately doing a good job? Frankly, they should be smart enough and knowledgeable enough as a group of people to be able to define their work and the measures of success. Now you have the beginnings of performance standards.

Once everyone has arrived at a correct understanding of what needs to be done, it should be easy for everyone to be committed to getting it done.

If you have written job descriptions and performance standards, and each employee can measure their own contribution to the success of the venture—congratulations!

But if you don’t, start getting down to business. You and your employees will all be the better for it. And even more important, your customers will notice and respond positively to you.

The time is now.

by Ron Slee
August, 2013
Water Well Journal

About Water Well Journal

The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.

Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.