Boundaries and standards: why you need them and how to set them

Company policies on file

The time to make sure you don't run into problems with employees not behaving the way you want them to, is before the trouble starts. Michael Smyth explains what you need in place to make managing employee behaviour much easier and more effective.

Why is it that some teenagers are good academically and never get into trouble whereas others are the opposite? Similarly, why is it that some employees go the extra mile and are worth their weight in gold, whereas others turn up late and perform poorly? It's no coincidence that work performance goes hand in hand with conduct and I'll explain why.

Disciplined action leads to disciplined thought

Top achievers share a common characteristic, namely disciplined thought. Disciplined thought is the ability to be able to focus on a single task without distraction and complete that task with persistence, logic, and reasoning. Undisciplined thought allows distractions, procrastination, and ultimately a lack of persistence. It's no surprise then that top achievers, whether at school or work, share this characteristic. But how do you develop disciplined thought?

Strange as it may seem, disciplined thought actually stems from disciplined action and this is no better illustrated by the army. Young recruits are taken on with very little discipline and after several months of drills become experts in polishing their boots, marching in sync and overall cleanliness. All of these things assist on the battlefield where a lack of performance can mean death. Soldiers are given very strict boundaries within which to operate. As a result their performance standards are high.

Employees are your soldiers

Your employees are the soldiers of your business. If you want high performing employees then you need to set boundaries. Now I am not suggesting that you run your business like a military boot camp, but I do suggest that you set boundaries around the things that are important to your business. So if an employee's presentation at work is important stipulate what is acceptable. If arriving at work on time is important, again stipulate it and enforce it. Most parents will know that if you don't give teenagers boundaries they will push the boundaries of what is acceptable which leads to undisciplined thought.

How to set boundaries in the workplace

The best way to set boundaries in the workplace is through policies. Each employees employment agreement will set basic minimum rules or boundaries, but policies allow you to elaborate on what is acceptable as your business grows because in most cases you can implement them without the agreement of each individual employee.
Your policy manual then acts as your ‘rule book' and provided it is enforced will cultivate disciplined action in your organisation. Once you have disciplined action then disciplined thought will follow, but first you need to communicate what standards of performance are required.

Standards are different to boundaries

Standards relate to work performance and whilst poor performance may not be acceptable conduct, it is different to an employee breaking a rule or crossing the boundaries of what is acceptable. An employee who is performing badly but is otherwise well disciplined requires coaching to improve standards. An employee who is performing badly and who is undisciplined first needs to have boundaries enforced. In the former case, this could be one of three problems:
• The employee doesn't appreciate the standards required
• The employee needs more training or help
• The employee doesn't have the aptitude for the job

Whichever it is, communication of the standards required is essential.

How to communicate standards

The way to communicate standards is by setting KPIs through the medium of the job description and regular performance appraisals. Businesses that fail to set standards can only blame themselves if their employees perform badly: you must set a standard so employees know what standard they have to reach. As human beings we are intrinsically lazy (its built into our DNA) so if you don't let employees know the high standards expected they won't push themselves: don't expect them to have the same enthusiasm as you since it is not their business.

Rules and standards = engagement

Once you have rules and standards in place, your workplace will become more engaged, efficient and profitable through the application of disciplined action and disciplined thought. The key here is communication: if you don't communicate your rules and standards you can't expect engagement from your employees.

Topics: 

  • Hummin' Along
  • Administration
  • Staff
  • Legal documents

Add new comment

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
Michael Smyth's picture

Michael Smyth is the owner of www.approachablelawyer.com and is a practising barrister specialising in employment and business law. If you want to stumble across a library of valuable information about running your business head down to...