According to BSI, standards are:
“Powerful tools that can help drive innovation and increase productivity.”
Standards are recognised quality benchmarks, but on a more personal level, in business, how do we set and maintain our own standards?
At our last MEG breakfast meet-up for January, we’ve been talking about standards, what they mean to us, and how we can develop them.
Who Sets Standards?
In certain industries, standards are a question of compliance. There are various forms of government and accreditation and industry-specific certification that enable the holder to demonstrate that they are meeting certain specified, and stringent, standards.
However, there are also the standards you set for yourself and your brand or business.
And then there are the standards your customers or clients expect from you.
Why Should Standards Matter?
Standards are a way of defining who you are and what your brand represents. They can be a powerful motivator in shaping and growing a business, and a means of building and demonstrating trust to prospects and customers – providing that you meet the standards you set.
Therefore, for standards to be effective, you must do more than just pay lip service to them, even if standing by them can sometimes mean making difficult choices.
Standards are not static. They develop alongside your business.
Often you end up working out what your standards should be, in hindsight, when you realise why something has not gone to plan.
Does this mean you’re shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted?
No, because the most valuable lessons you learn in business come from experience.
If you shape your standards based on experience, then they are far more likely to be realistic, meaningful and applicable.
Do Your Customers Get What They Want?
If your standards are a benchmark of how good you are up to the present, what guarantees that you can meet your customers’ expectations?
Do their standards match yours?
A large part of this will be down to alignment: are you and the customer the right match?
This also overlaps into your positioning in your market. If you get this right, you’re more likely to be working to the standards your customer expects, because there has been a meaningful two-way dialogue.
Standards work when relationships work. Then you can fulfil your brand promise.
How Do You Compete on a Level Playing Field?
In certain aspects of business and management, a minimum level of compliance sets a clear standard, but this also means that you then need something extra to differentiate yourself and define your unique selling proposition.
If, for example, your industry has minimum professional standards, they are not necessarily a marketable benefit in themselves.
Instead, you have to focus on how you deliver your services, and build trust with your clients.
Trust has a powerful role to play in setting your own standards too. No standards, however high, will compensate for a failure to build trust.
Is it a question of what comes first:
- The standards you set, which then govern your behaviour, or
- The way you conduct your business, which helps you define what your standards should be?
More About MEG
Manchester Enterprise Group meets fortnightly for breakfast networking and a roundtable discussion at Colony, Piccadilly in central Manchester.
It’s like an informal boardroom for business owners and professionals.