I had coffee with a good friend and journalist recently, discussing my new book Meaningful Conversations and prospective around excellence and being extraordinary in life: we discussed Darwin and his contribution across research and study from nature to business today, all of our discussions had one fundamental commonality to be extraordinary you need to set high standards and have a purpose.
It is important to have high standards. For the most part, life will pay any price you ask of it. The people who achieve the most in the world have incredibly high standards. It is like this with businesses as well. A great piece of machinery, or a great service, is like this because of the standards that are followed.
You have personal values, beliefs and performance benchmarks. Your business also has these characteristics and they are referred to as company standards. Think of standards as your business personality and vision coupled with the rules you live and work by. Your small business standards will likely mirror your personal standards, and your customers, clients and employees will form an opinion about your business – and your brand – based on these values.
What are standards?
Your standards define how your company acts, which, in turn, builds trust in your brand. They can be guidelines that describe quality, performance, safety, terminology, testing, or management systems, to name a few. They can comply with authoritative agencies or professional organisations and be enforceable by law, such as required medical degrees for doctors or credentials for financial planners. Or they can be voluntary rules you establish to create confidence among your clients that your business operates at a high and consistent quality level, such as a restaurant only using the highest quality, locally-sourced ingredients.
Standards must align with your mission, business objectives, and organizational leadership, and be implemented consistently across your enterprise. Employees need to buy in to the value of adhering to standards so everyone is pulling in the same direction and reinforcing your brand.
Controlling and measuring standards
Standards are what your business aspires to, but they don’t guarantee performance. You need to create processes to control how your standards are implemented, and measure and evaluate how they help your business grow. Written guidelines, technical specifications, product inspection processes, management and financial audits, and even customer surveys can be effective performance indicators and help you determine if you’re meeting your standards, or if the standards need to be tweaked in some way.
With people, it is the psychology of standards that separates the best people from the ordinary. For people with high standards, they believe that everything matters and that nothing is small enough not to have a benchmark or standard. They hold themselves to high standards because they know that without doing this, they will not get to where they want to go, or become the people they want to be. They get “stressed” about not meeting the standards (their goals) and use this stress to drive them forward to get better and better. Stress is drive when you convert it. You want to have stress to drive yourself forward.
Working in an exceptional law firm is stressful precisely because they have such high standards. Everything is taken very seriously and the culture of the law firm is based on high standards. It is like this with medicine, finance and everywhere else where the people are the very best at what they do.
When you work with exceptional people, they generally have high standards and these standards will rub off on you. You become like the people you spend time with. This is why people who come out of certain employers where high standards are rigorously enforced tend to do better in the job market. Employers believe that they too will have high standards.
You can see how standards work in the fitness arena. If someone is a professional bodybuilder, they are generally going to be far more demanding of themselves from a fitness standpoint than someone who is not. They are going to work out harder, lift more, eat differently and live a different lifestyle than someone without these sorts of standards.
The Importance of Being Extraordinary
When law firms, companies and others lay people off, the people who lose their jobs are generally the people who are “good”. People who are “outstanding” never lose their jobs – hardly ever. Outstanding people are the ones who bring hard work, constant improvement and greatness to whatever they do. The world needs people who are outstanding and set the highest goals possible for themselves.
There is a part of you—and all of us—that is also outstanding and will come out if we set the right standards. Everyone can be outstanding with the right standards. If you say you cannot be outstanding, you are slapping the face of your creator. The entire secret to being outstanding lies in the standards you set for yourself. There is nothing on this earth that does not have a purpose. You are in control over what happens to you and can control it by the standards you set for yourself. Life has meaning when you give it your all.
It is all about the standards and decisions you make. What standards are you going to choose for your life?
Comfort in where you are is dangerous. People who get too comfortable are the ones who get fat, lose their jobs, whose spouses walk out on them and who die early deaths because they do not take good care of themselves. People who get too comfortable do not earn the respect of the world, their children, peers and others at anywhere near the level they are capable of. People who get too comfortable slowly waste away.
The real question is how do companies with high standards get that way and how do they maintain them?
Which brings me to my conclusion: high standards start at the top. Leadership sets those standards and communicates expectations to the key people who then communicate them throughout the organisation, no matter whether the whole organisation consists of one person or hundreds. They train people on the standards, create metrics and review procedures to ensure the standards are maintained and enforced. If, or when, it is found that standards are not being maintained, remedial action is activated. I know this sounds simple, but it really is not, and involved tremendous work and energy, no one said maintaining excellence was easy as with being extraordinary. It takes a constant, never-ending effort to accomplish year-in and year-out. But the benefits are enormous.
In general, businesses with high standards enjoy higher customer satisfaction and greater customer loyalty, lower levels of staff turnover and a happier workforce, better reputations and more referrals, and higher profit margins which allows for greater investment in growth because customers are, typically, willing to pay a little more to get the results and benefits of those higher standards. The result is a more sustainable, more profitable, and more enjoyable business for all concerned.
Finally, assuming leadership is able to create and articulate those higher standards, it has to be realised this is not a “snap-the-fingers-and-it-happens” project. It takes patience, fortitude and gumption to get higher standards in place and achieved but when it works amazingly great things will happen.
Anthony Robbins once quoted:
“Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards”