One night, my wife and I went out to dinner at a popular upscale restaurant. The restaurant grounds included a beautiful garden on a lush green lawn. As we enjoyed our meal and each other’s company, we heard the pitter-patter of little raindrops against the windows. By the time we paid the check, those little raindrops had become a big downpour. As we waited inside for the valet to bring our car around, I couldn’t help noticing the lawn’s sprinklers were on at full blast — while the rain kept pounding down! I asked the young assistant manager on duty why the sprinklers were on.
“It’s Tuesday, sir,” he said brightly. “We always turn on the lawn sprinklers on Tuesday.”
“Oh, I see,” I said. “It’s an automated sprinkler system set up to run every Tuesday?”
“No, sir, I turn the sprinkler on and off myself,” the assistant manager said. “It’s one of my duties.”
Puzzled, l gestured at the windows. “But it’s already raining. Isn’t it overkill to have the sprinklers running while it’s raining?”
“Well…” Suddenly the assistant manager was at a loss for words. “That’s what we do here on Tuesdays, sir. I’m just doing what my boss told me to do.”
Performance standards must be results-oriented, not task-oriented. If you want to get your boss in trouble, do exactly, literally, what he tells you to do. This young man was just following the rulebook, doing what he’d been told had to be done on a typical Tuesday. He hadn’t stopped to think why he was putting on the sprinklers in the rain; he’d simply figured he’d better follow his superior’s instructions to the letter, downpour or not, otherwise he’d be in hot water with his boss.
Make strong, specific performance standards your company’s standard operating procedure!