Setting standards for your team: Insights from Studer Group

On their first day, employees at Studer Group, now a part of Huron Healthcare, sign a commitment statement to abide by the company's behavioral standards, which are nonnegotiable.

"There is something about signing it that makes people more committed," Shannon Libbert, director of national partnerships at Studer Group, said at the Becker's Hospital Review 6th Annual Meeting in Chicago. "It certainly lays the foundation and sets expectations early on."

Founder Quint Studer has built the organization with the idea that culture outperforms strategy every time, and culture with strategy is unbeatable. Based on this philosophy, the company employs an organized, transparent and objective approach to culture development. Part of this comes down to the behavioral standards, or common expectations for how people conduct themselves.

The organization upholds professionalism internally as much as it does with clients. Ms. Libbert began working with Studer Group in 2005. Early on, somebody told her she'd need a thick skin to thrive in the Pensacola, Fla.-based organization. "The first time I got some feedback that wasn't what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear, I understood what they meant," she said. "It wasn't in the spirit of being unkind, but in the spirit of helping me get better."

Ms. Libbert provided a list of common standards of behavior, such as a positive attitude, neat appearance, respect for others' privacy, recognition of others, elevator etiquette and generosity. "It can come down to something as small as email etiquette," she said. "People perform if they know what it is they are to perform and what they will be held accountable for."

The best standards are specific. Too many organizations think they can uphold a standard like, "Be a good team player," but employees interpret that instruction differently, making it difficult to enforce.

One standard at Studer Group is how team members interact if there is a conflict. For instance, if a team member approaches his or her manager about a conflict with Joe or Sue or whomever at Studer Group, the manager will ask, "What did Joe or Sue have to say about it?" Management assumes employees have already talked to their colleagues like professionals.

Another standard is the 10-5 rule. When a colleague is 10 feet away, you acknowledge them; when they are 5 feet away, you say hello. Phone etiquette is another issue: Are you smiling before you pick up the phone?

Standards should be built around company values. But how should leaders craft their commitment statements? How can they get specific enough? What types of behaviors and traits should you include? Ms. Libbert has a few tips for brainstorming:

·    Think about the people you enjoy working with most, and think about why.
·    Think about the behavioral characteristics the highest-performing employees demonstrate consistently.
·    Think about behaviors you would expect an employee to demonstrate if your loved one came to an organization.

Ms. Libbert said the best standards are not those handed down from leadership. The entire team should set the standards. Some organizations roll out the standards with ceremonies to celebrate the new commitments, she said. Behavioral standards can also prove useful down the line if there are violations, since the employee signed and acknowledged the agreement.

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