What you are Willing to Tolerate becomes the Standard


Jeff Bezos refers to Amazon’s customers as “divinely discontent.” Ten years ago Amazon customers were satisfied with 3-5 days shipping. At some point expectations shifted to 2-day shipping. Now many demand Same Day delivery. How long before Same Hour delivery is the norm?

In his 2017 Letter to Shareholders Bezos had this to say about Amazon customers:

“Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature.”

One of the ways great leaders stay ahead of ever-rising customer expectations is by setting high standards. By standards I’m referring to both service standards – expectations for delivering service to customers – and internal standards, expectations regarding culture and process.

While writing down your standards and communicating them to your team is important, that will never be the final word on the subject. What matters most is this:

What you are willing to tolerate becomes the standard.

Your standard may be that employees treat each other with respect, yet if you observe a disparaging remark from one employee about another and you remain silent, well, that just became the standard.

You may expect meetings to start on time, but if you schedule a meeting and employees who show up on time are forced to wait for their teammates, well, that just became the standard.

In 2013, the Australian army was facing a sexual harassment scandal. The Chief of the Army, David Morrison, addressed the organization:

“Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has EVER explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others, enhances capability, or honours the traditions of the Australian Army.

I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values. And I need everyone of you to support me in achieving this. The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept – that goes for all of us, but especially those, who by their rank, have a leadership role.” – David Morrison, Chief of Australian Army

Although Morrison’s speech specifically addressed the issue of sexual harassment, his message and approach applies to culture change in general. Top down directives and edicts will get you only so far. You need buy-in from everyone if you truly want to establish high standards.

Ask yourself, what do you expect from your employees? And then ask yourself, what do you tolerate? Your job should be to close that gap, all the time.



Jeff Bezos 2017 Letter to Shareholders

David Morrison: The Standard You Walk Past is the Standard You Accept

Forbes: What You are Willing to Tolerate Sets the Tone for Your Company and Culture


About the Author

Sean P. Murray is an author, speaker and consultant in the areas of leadership development and talent management. Learn more at RealTime Performance.

Follow Me on Twitter: @seanpmurray111

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