Leadership: Setting Standards and Expectations

One of the biggest challenges for managers who are learning to lead is developing the ability to set expectations and standards and then hold people accountable to these expectations.

Understanding the benefits and why to apply a model such as the one highlighted in this blog is relatively simple, however application, consistency and follow-through can be a challenge for many.

Many years ago I was introduced to a model titled SOI assisting to set expectations and assess performance. The model title is an acronym which stands for Standards – Observations – Impact and has been a simple, yet vital tool in my development and that of others in my coaching and leadership development roles.

The SOI model has become inherently part of how I think and work with others. Through practice and application it has become an unconscious process focused on ensuring people are clear on what is required; measurement against those objectives; and discussions as to why they are important.

Throughout this time and as my exposure and experience increased, I recognised that there were a couple of elements missing in the model that when added, make it clearer and more relevant.

In essence the 5 stages of the model create a structured process for leading and coaching your team members, focused mostly on clarity, context and accountability. As with most concepts or models such as this, they are not pure in that sometimes there is a need to move from step 4 back to 2 for instance. Following the basic principle and order, whilst remaining flexible to return to previous elements is important. Most relevant is the fact that there are no ‘rights and wrongs’ in application, rather discovering a way to make the tool work best for you and your team. A rigid and linear mindset and application of models such as this rarely adds the value it should if too literally applied. Click on the image below to open a full version that can re easily read and/or printed.

Click on the image above to open a printable PDF version of the REOWM Model

To fully understand the model and its application it is also important to delve into the 5 elements:

Relationships: I often refer to this as ‘earning the right’ to have any conversation. Regular, informal and formal discussions are incredibly important to developing trust, understanding and depth in any relationship. This is as relevant outside of the workplace as within it. Deliberately taking the opportunity to get to know other people creates the extended opportunity to understand their beliefs, interests, passions, goals etc. Ultimately you need to get to a point where the diversity and differences that exist between people is understood well enough to know how to hold the various, specific conversations required as a leader. This is different for each of your team members. Listening, asking relevant questions and knowing how and why this is different between people will lead to deeper relationships and a greater likelihood of trusted, contextual conversations. That is why relationships are the key to leadership and this tool. Put another way, without strong relationships its is very difficult to apply a model such as this with any meaning or depth.

Expectations: the original model title for this element is ‘standards’. I have changed it as sometimes this word has confused people I work with. It can be identified with standardisation of processes and compliance requirements such as ISO standards – in reality it represents so much more than that. Expectations and standards can and do take many forms. They can be personal expectations from the leader; cultural factors or norms; team-based; KPI’s and many other forms. The most critical part of this point is that it is not enough to simply deliver the expectation(s). A productive and interested leader will ensure that the expectation is understood. On occasion I have requested of a leader to check in with a member of their team regarding what they consider are the top 5-6 things they are most responsible for in their role. Every time there is a discrepancy between what the leader thinks they have delivered as an expectation and what the employee relays back. It is not enough to tell, you must also ask, confirm and regularly check in.

Observations: in essence, this is an assessment of how your employee is going in meeting the expectations previously delivered and understood. It is a progressive discussion and should form a core part of the 1:1 and coaching sessions you regularly conduct. The biggest mistake I see leaders make within this point is that they tell or give feedback in the early stages of the discussion. Feedback and your own observations are important, but so is a self-assessment from your team member, generally sought before your thoughts are given. By asking first you are setting a standard that states that your team members are expected to know how they are progressing and how these changes have occurred. Ownership and accountability shifts with this type of discussion. It also provides an opportunity to understand others perspective; remove assumptions; clarify understanding; and create ownership of development. All of this deepens the relationship and levels of trust when applied with meaning.

Why/Impact: generally the most commonly missed element. Ensuring that clarity exists as to why this expectation is being discussed in the first place is important. It could be that it benefits the employee and their goals; the team; peers; bottom line; contribute to KPI’s; or any other reason for it being key to the discussion at that point. If the why or impact cannot be discerned then it is worthwhile challenging the benefit or focus of that expectation in the first place.

Measurement: along with relationships, this is the other element I have added to the model. Being able to measure progress from a starting point, through improvement, to an end state provides many benefits. The psychological gains in seeing growth or improvement for both the employee and yourself are important. Understanding when things are maybe not progressing as solidly or quickly as planned; helping to see the efforts as an investment rather than a cost; feeling the worth of this effort and the desire to keep trying; learning from mistakes and successes; and celebrating milestones along the journey are all assisted through an effective measurement process. Importantly, this can be qualitative or quantitative. Some of the most powerful measurement processes relate to feedback from other team members; peers; and yourself based on observation.

Often leaders are wary of providing their own view as it is seen as subjective. Don’t be frightened to seek and provide this detail as (particularly when respect and trust exist) a simple acknowledgement or recognition of progress can be the difference between an engaged and disengaged employee.

The opportunity to provide greater context and clarity for people is one that I regularly see could be improved in most organisations. Depth and substance in coaching and 1:1 sessions is critical and a tool such as this can make a real and sustained difference when applied. Each step is important and has its own need. Practice the art and science of effective leadership by using tools such as this. When you consider the option, there is little to lose in trying and much to gain.

Feel free to use this model to the advantage of your team, organisation and self. By clicking on the image above it will open a PDF version that can be printed or shared as you see fit.

Let me know how you go as I am always interested to learn how others gain benefit from information and tools such as this. Additionally. don’t hesitate to contact us if you feel that CoachStation would assist you, your team and organisation.