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The Standards of Standards

Labs of all kinds need standards, but they must be the right standards. Good standards are neither goals nor quotas that we will try to reach, but rather rules of behavior that we will follow every day, every time.

by Ralph Hood
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A good standard is the minimum that we will do today and every day, not a dream of success or what we hope to do someday. Good standards apply to behavior that will produce the desired result. For example, if our desire is to lower the number of on-the-job accidents, we don’t just say “be careful.” We set standards such as “wear safety goggles.”

The good standard applies to those who can control the behavior that produces the desired results. “Well, duh,” you might say, everybody knows that. However, in teaching standards across the country in different industries, I’ve been amazed at how many standards can’t be controlled by the people to whom the standards apply.

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One repair shop, for example, was measured each month by how income related to expenses including overhead such as rent and other costs not controlled by shop management. This went on literally for years. Each month, shop management mentioned that they couldn’t control overhead, and the monthly meeting quickly descended into an argument about that one subject. The secret was to measure the costs that shop management did control, such as payroll, waste, bad debts and other areas.

A good standard can be taught to everyone who will live by that standard. If that is not true, you either have the wrong standard or the wrong people in that job. You must change one or the other. It has been my experience that it’s usually easier to change or rewrite the standards.

Good standards must be measured, or you don’t really have a standard at all. That means you should use only standards that are measurable in your lab. If you can’t measure it, again, you don’t have a good standard. This is an oftenignored facet of good standards. For example, management’s desired result for salespeople is that they sell the product. Management has learned that this desired result will be met by salespeople who make a certain number of sales calls each day. Wisely, they set a standard requiring that behavior. Unwisely, they never measure the calls that the salespeople make. That doesn’t work, and that’s why it is important to have the salespeople fill out a regular report on each call.

Once a good standard is chosen, it is necessary to execute the standard— to put it into service—in writing unless it is a very small group. The important thing is to make certain that everyone understands the standard and agrees to comply.

Finally, management should never accept substandard behavior. This is perhaps the biggest weakness of management. This is also why you must measure. Every example of ignoring the standard should be dealt with very quickly and it should be emphasized that this goal is not to punish, but to stress that the standard must be followed. They will catch on surprisingly quickly.

LABCAST: Be sure to attend Ralph Hood’s Lab Manager Academy webinar, “You Gotta Have Standards!” on Wednesday, November 5, or afterward at to watch the archived video.