Upgrade | Raising the Standards in How We Work

iStock_RaiseStandards_LargeI was watching this video blog post by Marie Forleo the other day and it got me thinking about the standards we set for ourselves in the work that we do. Not just the goals and objectives we establish in our planning activities, but the actual level of standards applied in what we do and how we do it.

As Marie has noted, all too often we have experiences with brands that result in frustration, negativity, and lack of focus or responsiveness to our needs. We’re simply not being heard. In a competitive market where bottom line becomes the driving force to every interaction, quality, service, and human relationships can take a back seat.

As business professionals, we each have a responsibility to present our best selves to those we serve by constantly looking for new opportunities to raise the bar.

This simple idea isn’t about innovation or creating the next great product or service in the effort to make more money. This is about increasing the expectations we set for our business, ourselves, and those we work with, so we can expand and enrich the collective value and experiences we bring to those we serve.

Traditionally, the end of a calendar year is when we examine business progress, make adjustments to existing plans, and establish new goals and targets for the coming year. My challenge to you is to incorporate the standards you and your teams set for yourselves into the planning process and to really step up your game in some key areas.

Core Values

Look to your company core values first and foremost. These are the fundamental principles of the business that drive the conduct of the work performed, how it’s done, and how people interact with one another—both internally and externally.

What are the core values of your organization? Are there basic elements where increased focused and attention can improve the standards of your team? Look to things like integrity, diversity, accountability, quality, innovation, respect, relationships, and so on. It’s not a bad exercise to regularly score yourself and your team against these fundamentals to ensure you are aligned with, and maybe exceeding, expectations.

Relationships and Interactions

At the heart of any business is the health and wellness of its relationships—with clients, vendors, analysts, stakeholders, and your own employees. Is there an opportunity to be more transparent with any of these groups? Are you being thoughtful, genuine, positive, and helpful in your interactions?

Does a feedback channel exist where clients can be heard and extra care and attention can be paid to the issues they are facing? While many companies conduct client satisfaction surveys and may have client advisory councils where honest and open feedback is captured, a typical business only hears from about 4% of it’s dissatisfied customers according to this collection of research gathered by Help Scout. Ensure you find the right channels, are listening carefully, and responding with relevant and timely support. Take it to the next level by showing where and how you plan to address needs, show gratitude for their honesty and candor, and seek input again and again—but always show progress so they know they are being heard.

The same goes for internal relationships with colleagues and employees. Listen and be responsive, be transparent and honest, show kindness and gratitude, be supportive and helpful, and bump up communication efforts when and where you are able.

“Acceptance of prevailing standards often means we have no standards of our own.”  — Jean Toomer

And how about how you want to be treated—can you establish a new baseline and raise the standard for what you consider acceptable? In order to maintain healthy relationships, personally and professionally, both parties must be treated equally and with respect and reciprocity.

Service Levels

According to research by Bain & Company, a client is four times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is poor client service related versus product or price related. 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. (RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report)

We may think our attention and service to clients is premium, but I guarantee it can be improved. Look at the different areas of service provided to clients and prospects at all stages of the sales cycle and service level agreement. There are times where the sales or client management teams are very attentive in the beginning, and then service and touch points slowly decline. There may also be greater focus and attention given by certain members of the organization, only to be treated with less care by others in another piece of the process.

How much accountability is there with every team member? Is anyone skipping levels of service because they think it’s not their responsibility? Are you delivering on all promises made? Is there full commitment to the plan? Are you making it simple for your clients and customers to understand? Are you following through on all requests, being agile where necessary?

Examine every touch point, online and in person, to ensure world-class customer service.

Collaboration

In a study done by Salesforce, 96% of executives cited a lack of collaboration or ineffective communications for workplace failures. Competition exists not only in the marketplace, but also inside our own company walls. Silo mentality and a lack of knowledge sharing lead to redundant activities, reinvention, and time lost. Innovation occurs when we break away from ourselves and share ideas openly so they can be built upon and grow beyond our own boundaries.

“Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.” — Walt Disney

Look for new ways to collaborate with other teams, other parts of the organization, and maybe external groups. It’s beneficial for both sides and can establish a culture of openness and transparency.

Beyond just collaborating, instill ground rules of listening to all ideas, allowing diversity of thought, skills, and people, and sharing this model and it’s successes with others to drive new collaborative teams and projects.

Communication

I’d be remiss if I didn’t stress the critical need to raise the standards in our communication efforts.

How, when, where, how often, and what we communicate about are baseline elements of any good communications program. Far too often, however, it’s left only to the communications arm of the organization. The reality is that companies with strong communications marks have a culture where the efforts to communicate effectively are integrated into every layer of the organization, into every role, and individuals are measured against it.

While core messaging is mostly formally drafted and delivered by executive leadership and communications experts, it is up to every individual to take ownership of their part in the cascade of communications and be accountable to maintain a regular cadence of information and messages.

Where can you up your game with communications? How do your teams, clients, vendors, or professional networks communicate best? Can you share information or news more often or with greater clarity to the audiences you serve? Is a phone call or in-person meeting better than an email? Are you being transparent in what you are sharing? Do you ensure time and process for two-way communications? Are your messages being heard and is appropriate action being taken?

As the New Year approaches, I look forward to the opportunity for a fresh start and to up my own game across my professional and personal life. I hope to look for new ways to hold myself accountable and to capture and track my own successes. I plan to set new standards and incrementally increase those when and where appropriate. What will you be doing to raise your standards? Is there one core area you hope to focus on more than any others? How do you plan to raise the bar?

Image Credit: ©iStock.com/RomoloTavani

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