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Creating Behavior Standards for Your Business editorial staff editorial staff

Here's why it's important to set standards for your business.

  • Creating behavioral standards helps businesses develop a culture of excellence.
  • Standards of behavior sets customers' expectations when they visit your business.
  • Behavioral standards should be agreed upon by all the business's stakeholders, including employees. Involve all parties in coming up with agreeable standards.

Dear Dan: I'm old-school when it comes to manners, and some of the behavior I see from my employees is disappointing. They are otherwise good workers, but is there a way to create my own standards?   Old-School Manners

Dear Old School: There's much to be said for harmony in the workplace. When employees get along – with customers and clients as well as each other – your business prospers. But people often do little things that you wish they wouldn't, such as rough language, poor cell phone etiquette or over-the-top political arguments. Many business owners are reluctant to try and control such behavior when employee performance is otherwise good.

But if you assume there's nothing you can do, think again, says Quint Studer, author of Wall Street Journal bestseller Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top (Wiley). You can legislate good behavior – and what's more, most employees will be glad you did.

"Don't assume people will feel that you're infringing on their rights when you create a set of behavioral rules," says Studer, founder of the Studer Group, a business consulting firm. "Most of them are as irritated by the offenders as you and your customers are. Besides, most people appreciate having official guidelines – it eliminates their own confusion. If you don't spell out which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, you can't hold people accountable for them."

Importance of maintaining standards in the workplace

Many people seem to believe that setting behavioral standards in the workplace can adversely affect productivity. However, according to Career Trend, maintaining these standards can provide companies with the following benefits:

  • Protect employees from harassment. One of the top benefits of maintaining behavioral standards in the workplace is that it can help protect employees from harassment. By outlining which types of behaviors are and are not acceptable, you can help protect all employees from deviant behaviors, such as harassment.

  • Promote an ethical workplace. Another great benefit of maintaining behavioral standards in the workplace is that it will allow you to promote an ethical workplace overall. Although behavioral standards can seem a tad restricting, they help you show that ethics are a priority for your company culture.

  • Boost employee morale. Lastly, by creating behavior standards, you can also boost morale in your company. If underlying behaviors or actions have been causing conflict within the workplace, creating behavioral standards can help eradicate these issues, thus boosting morale overall.

Studer suggests developing a "standards of behavior" contract and having everyone sign it, from owner on down. This document can address all aspects of behavior at work, including the following:

  1. Interaction with clients
  2. Phone etiquette
  3. Good workplace manners
  4. Positive attitude markers, such as smiling or saying thank you

A behavior standards sample document is available for free at (enter the title in the search box to find it). Studer offers these tips:

  • Seek input from all employees. Put together a "standards team" to create a first draft. Just be sure that everyone has a chance to provide input before it's finalized. Do not merely write it yourself and impose it on everyone else. You need buy-in, and that requires wider participation.

  • Be crystal clear. Don't write, "Display a positive attitude." Do write, "Smile, make eye contact, and greet customers by name." Don't worry about insulting people's intelligence. Sometimes people really don't know what appropriate behavior is and isn't. For instance, if you don't want slang phrases used with customers, you need to identify them upfront. For example, one business asks employees to avoid terms like "yeah," "hold on," "honey" and "see ya."

  • Hold a ceremonial rollout. Once you've finalized your standards, hold an employee meeting to introduce the document and distribute pledges for everyone – including you – to sign. Some businesses create activities to educate employees about the standards. Make it fun. But do have everyone sign a pledge; it's amazing how much more seriously people take rules when they've signed on the dotted line.

  • Hold people accountable. Make sure everyone knows they'll be held accountable to your standards. How you hold them accountable is up to you. Sometimes a simple meeting in which you show an employee the signed pledge and point out an error is sufficient. Other times, you might need stronger measures.

  • Create a "standard of the month." Every month, highlight a specific standard to boost awareness. Say, for example, you decide to focus on your policy for dealing with disgruntled customers. First send a reminder email detailing the policy. Next, you might ask employees to write up examples of how they've dealt with angry or dissatisfied customers. Some businesses recruit employees to act out both sides of a conflict. Not only is this fun and often hilarious, it helps people see both sides.

  • Update your standards. Your standards may need periodic updates. Some directives may not work as intended and may need to be changed. You may also discover new standards that need to be added as your business grows and evolves.

  • Have new applicants sign. Before you hire new employees, have them read and sign your Standards of Behavior contract. You may be able to eliminate candidates who visibly balk at conforming to your culture. More importantly, when you do hire someone, there will be no doubt what you expect.

Just knowing that written standards exist is enough to keep most employees on their toes. It creates an extra boost of awareness that affects day-to-day behavior and helps pull problem employees up to a higher level.

"Don't worry that enforcing standards of behavior will create a company of robots," says Studer. "That's not true. A business unified by agreed-upon standards is a far more pleasant place to work. Individual responsibility flourishes because it's clear what everyone's responsibilities are. And that contributes to happy customers who keep coming back for more."

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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