Aim High: Achieving a Great Reputation Requires High Standards
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Aim High: Achieving a Great Reputation Requires High Standards

When you drive up to Disneyland the message is clear: "The Happiest Place On Earth."

That not only announces their intention, it also defines their performance standards. If what you are doing as a Disney employee (correction: "Cast Member") doesn't produce happiness, then you need to reconsider how you are doing it. They hire people who will keep the place happy, manage to the measures that have been shown to produce happiness, and discharge people who do not fit their culture. Consequently, they are the happiest place on earth.

FedEx tells us up front that we should choose them when "it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." So timely delivery is built into their policy manual, their training, their hiring practices, and the metrics they track each hour of each day. I could go on with scores of world-changing brands that are built upon high standards and have a long track record of successful execution.

So how about you and me, the small business owners who don't have acres of amusement rides, fleets of aircraft, or thousands of hamburger stands? Are standards important for us? You bet they are! In fact, the less clear and lower your standards are, the more likely your business will fail.

One of my internal practices over the years has been the unwavering policy that "The truth is OK." I explain to my team that I expect them to always tell the truth. They can expect the same from me, and I demand it from them.

Now 'demand' is a pretty strong word. Let me explain. I tell them that it's never OK to call in sick unless you're sick. You can ask for a day off to go to the beach, or take a 'discretionary' day off to attend a party or take a trip but if you call in sick and you are not, then you have resigned effective immediately, without severance pay.

The same is true for any other type of lie. You see, if I can't trust you to always tell me the truth, then I can't back you up when others challenge you. I also can't make any risky bets on you, because I'm not sure when I am getting the real story.

I was once put to the test on this one. My number 1 go-to employee was my marketing director, and I bragged about him everywhere I went. Then one day he lied to me, and I told him he was fired. It killed me to fire him, because I liked him and his work so much. But I cannot work with lies or half-truths, so I let him go. He came back and asked for another chance and I gave him one...but lived to regret it.

From the moment of the initial lie the bond between him and I had been broken. He never felt the same, nor did I. So even though he stayed with me for several weeks more, he was no longer engaged in the business. In fact, in his private on-the-job moments, he was calling others and job hunting, on my dime!

You may be thinking, 'Wow, Jim you are way too harsh about this.' I understand that position, but consider that some things are negotiable and some aren't. When it comes to legalities there is no wiggle room. You either obey the law or you break it. No 'fudge factor' is allowed. Likewise, when it comes to health and safety issues, you must get it right the first time and every time. So, when we set equally high standards for our product or service quality, then we earn a reputation of being the best.

Reliability is a trait that is earned through multiple occasions of dependable performance. If we strive to always do what we say we will do, in practice and in spirit, then our payoffs will appear in customer loyalty, low spoilage, repair or replacement expenses, and fewer employee problems.

How do you get a great reputation, exceptional quality output, and committed and proud employees? Through high standards consistently enforced. And, by the way, hold yourself to the high standards even more rigidly than you do for others. It's great to be at "The Top," in fact, it's one of the happiest places on earth.

Jim Cathcart is the bestselling author of 16 books and a "hall of fame" professional speaker. He has worked with 2,700 clients worldwide over his 35 years as a trainer and consultant. Jim is the founder of and a frequent coach to many of his colleagues and clients.

Published: February 5th, 2014

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