How to set clear standards and avoid frustration


It's understandable why staff sometimes misunderstand or ignore instructions. Whether it’s the correct way to serve drinks, greet a customer or balance the till - if the standards aren't crystal clear, someone will take shortcuts. There are five key issues to cover so everyone understands what is expected of them – they’re not hard to write down, and they’re often overlooked. Every time you ignore someone who’s done the job incorrectly, you’ve set a new, lower standard.

Standards can be categorised as Measurable, Observable or Prohibition and need to be backed up with Accountability and Consequences. Sound tough? Maybe, but a lot of so-called systems are vague and fluffy, giving staff reasons to say, ‘I didn’t understand’ or ‘I thought I did it right’.

Let’s look at some examples:

Measurable Standards – they can be counted or measured. Length of time, amount of money, temperatures, noise volume, number of hours or days.

Some practical examples:

  • Meat must be in refrigeration within 10 minutes of delivery, and stored below 5°C.
  • At the end of a shift, the till must balance to within $5
  • One person should be able to restock the bar fridges within 30 minutes
  • The restaurant music should be set at volume level #3

Observable Standards – how something looks, what something looks like, sounds like, smells like or how it tastes.

Some practical examples:

  • Staff must have hair tied back as shown in the staff manual on page 10
  • The Caesar Salad should look like this picture on the recipe card
  • The toilets should be without odours after cleaning
  • The party room should be set like this photo when not in use

Prohibition Standards – something that must not be done, or only done in one way.

Some practical examples:

  • Staff bags must be kept in the lockers during time on duty
  • Staff may not leave work through the back door
  • Drinks may only be given out as complimentary with the permission of a duty manager
  • No staff mobile phones to be used when on duty

Once you’ve set your standards, it’s important to have a follow up in the form of accountability and consequences.

Accountability for having these things done correctly will also be according to a standard, usually measurable.

Some practical examples:

  • The shift logbook must be completed before the manager leaves work
  • Staff roster costs must be kept to below 32% of weekly sales
  • Staff who are late more than two days in a row must be interviewed by the manager before they finish their shift
  • Managers are required to attend the weekly team meeting

Consequences. What’s the pain or gain if something is not done correctly, or if a staff member has done an excellent job? What is their reward or loss? Sometimes managers are quicker to punish than praise – is your response proportional, consistent and understood to be fair? Inconsistent consequences (or none at all) mean staff will think they are free to choose what they do properly, or not.

Most employees want to do the right thing, however there are many times when they don’t know what that is. Check again how your business standards are written, and make sure they are clearly measurable, observable or setting a prohibition.