Set the Standards You Desire

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Some years ago, I called one of my Nigerian marketing staff, who had gone on call to Ikeja, Lagos around 2pm and asked him to return to the office around 4pm for me to handover some assignments to him as I was travelling the following day. Around 4.00pm I got his call making some lame excuses that he wanted to close from Ikeja, apparently because it was close to his house. I didn’t agree to that and expected him at 4.00pm.

He didn’t show up and I handed the assignments to his deputy.

Interestingly, I had, the same day, but earlier at about 10.00am, sent an SMS to an Indian staff asking where he was so that I could decide on some things. I didn’t get any response from the Indian and the matter apparently escaped my mind until about 11pm. Because at 11.00pm I got an SMS from the Indian saying ‘Sir, I am only (sic) in the office, Sir’. I couldn’t imagine what he could be doing at the office at that hour so I quickly called and asked him what he was doing at the office and he said that he wasn’t at the office but at home. I realised that his SMS response to mine just got to me late.

‘Network challenges’, we call them.

But what was of interest was that the Indian kept insisting that if I needed to see him he could drive over immediately to my house, from his, which was at least fifteen kilometres away. He just kept saying, ‘Sir, I can come over right now Sir, if you need to see me. I can come over, Sir…’.

Two different attitudes to work.

Staff matters in Nigeria, and I believe in many other African countries are the most important issues for most organisations, but even more so in small and medium enterprises. Interestingly, staff are also the most important resource that any organisation has. So how can the entrepreneur, struggling to meet monthly payroll, ensure that they get the best and most out of their staff. There are several things that can be done. A few are as follows:

Set the standards: You must set the standards. If work starts at 8am or 9am at your place of work, ensure you are at your desk by 8am or 9am. If you can get earlier, the better. Staff do what their leaders do. If you take punctuality serious your staff would also.

But setting such standards is not only with your staff. You need to set such standards with your external stakeholders as well. For instance, if you agree with your client to be at their offices for a meeting at 10am, ensure you are there at least a few minutes to 10am. Neither on the appointed day, nor on any earlier day should you ever call or send mail to reconfirm or ‘remind’ the client. No. The onus is on the party that wishes to alter the appointment to make the call/send the mail to request for any change, and that should be done well ahead of the earlier appointed time. It is the same thing you must hold with your staff: If dates, days and times are set for some meetings, they must be held sacrosanct. NO reminders! Any staff member that may, for legitimate reasons, not be able to make any meeting, must make it clear and make sufficient arrangements for another colleague to step in for them where possible or necessary.

You can and must set standards on all other important issues: dress, clean office, personal development, productivity, etc.

Teach, teach and teach: There will be young people working with you. It is your responsibility to teach them at any and every opportunity. Teaching them on the job helps them understand the current best practices. However, you should also seize opportunity and send them on external/off-the job trainings that are relevant to your trade and industry and for their levels and career path. There are several such courses that small and medium entreprises can afford. External trainings expands the horizon and thinking capabilities of people. It also engenders flexibility and creativity of the mind as well as staff loyalty. All enhances productivity in both the short and long runs.

Enforce Discipline: Getting things done or what the late corporate guru, Jack Wech of General Electric, would call ‘execution’ is key to success. But what is key to execution or getting things done is discipline. ‘Little’ as well as big things can and do all matter. Without the ability and willingness to get the ‘little’ things done, they can easily stand in the way of getting what might be ‘big’ from getting done and getting done efficiently. Routine, little things can be very important. Don’t take them for granted. Get yourself and your staff to understand the impact of everything you do or fail to do on the achievement of the ultimate corporate goals.

Finally, be easy and understanding as might be reasonable but don’t take nonsense that can hurt discipline and performance. The Nigerian staff that didn’t return to the office as requested? He reported to the work the following morning but met a disengagement letter and pay cheque for the days he had worked that month and a month’s salary in lieu of notice. It is the of beauty of the private sector: you can fire and be fired. It helps productivity. The singular action of sending away a lazy staff, I have no doubt, helped others that might have had funny ideas to shape and sit up!
Equally importantly, the jobs were done perfectly by the deputy while I was six thousand kilometres away. In life, we are important. But we aren’t as important we might think!

The standards you set in your organisation determines the people that you attract, those that stay with you and those that leave you. The standards that you set outside your organisation, determine the clients and other stakeholders that you attract and those that leave you. In all cases, it is right for you.

Photo: Always train your people and set desired standards…


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