Standard of Performance

So what is a “standard of performance” and why does it matter? 

It matters for achieving top performance. Monty Moran, former co-CEO of Chipotle, defined top performance as “performing excellent work and through consistent effort in doing so, elevating yourself, those around you, and your company or organization.” It’s being the winning team. At the top of your game in your field of expertise.

When you look at the top-performing, most successful teams, individuals, or organizations, they have a standard of performance that they relentlessly administer. 

How Bill Walsh wins a Super Bowl

Bill Walsh was the coach who started the San Francisco 49ers dynasty in the 80s and 90s. He took them from the bottom of the NFL barrel and put them right on top in just a few seasons. He never said “I’m going to win a Super Bowl in my third season as coach,” though. He believed they would win by a relentless understanding and implementation of what he called his “standard of performance.”

Bill Walsh’s standard of performance meant a very specific way of showing up and playing the game of football. And it wasn’t just about the actual blocking and tackling and throwing and running and catching and play-calling of football. It was as much or more about the attitudes and beliefs of every single member of the 49ers team. And that team wasn’t just the athletes on the field, or even the coaches and the assistants, but every single individual at every level of the 49ers organization. They all had to believe in and adhere to Bill Walsh’s standard of performance. And they measured that standard in quantitative and qualitative ways.

Measuring the standard

“Quantitative” means the things that you can count. That might be running a play a very specific distance and adhering to all the details of that play. Running it by the book. “We’ve got a process for this. Are we following this process or not?” “There’s a metric we’re trying to achieve.” 

“Qualitative” means the things that are maybe a little “softer.” Loosey-goosey. Or touchy-feely. What you are able to achieve in the quantitative realm is often based on your attitudes or beliefs. Qualitative things. 

Bill Walsh knew what commitment to the team and your teammates looked like. He was not into egos. If he realized you were feeding your ego and ignoring the team, he called you out on it. If you demonstrated that behavior consistently and were unwilling to grow, he fired your ass. You were gone. 

From the outside, this didn’t always make sense. People often thought “what is he doing?!” Walsh knew what he was doing. He was building a culture around this standard of performance.

When you combine the qualitative and the quantitative, you get some pretty remarkable results. You’re living out your attitudes and beliefs and you’re doing it in a very precise and measurable way. That’s how you achieve top performance. That’s the kind of leader I want to be. That’s the kind of organization I want to lead. That’s the kind of team I want to be a part of. And those are the types of clients I want to work with.

What it looks like for us

Our standard of performance at Of the Sea holds us accountable for:

  • Driving commitments and deadlines
  • Having direct, respectful, effective communication
  • Messaging that receives unsolicited feedback

That last one actually has a quantitative element to it. If our clients receive unsolicited feedback about our messaging, we know it’s working. 

Driving unsolicited feedback

For example, we recently culminated a radio campaign here in Buffalo, NY for our client Emerald Heating and Cooling. We created their mascot and logo: a personified duck. He’s got a little duck bill and an Irish hat. Cute, but heroic-looking. We realized it would be really cool if this duck had a name. So we created a campaign. Marty and Carrie, a husband and wife duo who formed the company about 20 years ago, go back and forth about how the duck needs a name. They came up with silly and absurd ideas for what they should call the duck. We drew this out for months, and the tension was always that the duck still didn’t have a name.

Not once did we ask anyone to make a suggestion for the name. Marty and Carrie never said “Hey, if you’ve got a name for the duck, write in or call in!” Yet throughout the entire campaign, week in and week out, people were writing and calling in with suggestions for the name. When the techs and the installers would go to a customer’s home, the customers would ask them “Have you named the duck yet?” “Do you know what the duck’s name is going to be?”

We never asked for any of that. We just created the message in a way that it could potentially happen. So that’s an example, believe it or not, of a quantitative measure. Are people talking about it in an unsolicited fashion or not? That’s how it works for us as an advertising agency. It might work differently for your kind of business, but every single business can have these measures and these components that are part of your standard of performance. 

Write it down

I guarantee you’re already using some aspects of a standard of performance. You just haven’t given them language. You haven’t written them down. So my advice to you would be to write them down. Wordsmith them a little bit. And then share them with your team, maybe even sit down with your team and work through them together. Discover ones that you’re overlooking because they’re just so innate to and inherent to who you are and how you do things. They’re almost too obvious. Sometimes you need someone else who has a little bit of distance from it to point them out to you. 

It doesn’t take long and I think you’ll find it pretty invigorating. When you’re done, you’ll have a tool to lead your team, expand to your full potential, and to pull yourselves up to greater levels of achievement.