I’m a huge proponent of setting clear, behavior-based service standards for many reasons. First of all, they set the bar for everyone in the organization. They establish the baseline expectation regardless of rank, title, or longevity. Second, standards create a common language that can and should be used in coaching conversations and service discussions. And finally, it’s a reference point for guiding behavior and even disciplinary action. Leaders can point back to the standards and articulate any gaps between observed behaviors and the established standards. If the standards are laid out as a clear expectation, leaders can fall back on them when they see less than desirable behavior.
Many organizations spend months, if not years, creating standards. They print them on beautiful posters and brochures. They may even stencil them on the walls. But all that effort is worthless if no one is holding people accountable for living them on a daily basis. There is nothing worse than seeing a beautifully framed set of standards in the waiting room while you sit for hours without hearing a single update about your wait. Or reading that respect, dignity, and patient-centeredness is at the core of the organization only to be greeted by a disinterested registration clerk or rude medical assistant.
Standards are only as good as the organization’s ability to uphold them during every encounter with every customer, every day. Managers must actively walk around, observe, and coach staff in order to consistently uphold the standards. Not just once in awhile, but consistently. When staff see that their manager is holding everyone accountable for living the standards, it builds credibility. When they hear their manager talk about the standards, they get the message that they are important. When their manager consciously uses the language of the standards in coaching discussions, they connect the dots between the words, the behaviors, and the impact on the patient experience.
If you take the time to develop service standards, make sure you have clear expectations for how they will be upheld. Otherwise they’re just nice words on paper. Are they standards or just a suggestion?