Posted January 23, 2013

The Language of Leadership - Why Standards of Behavior Are So Important

By Bob Murphy, RN, JD

Most organizations have a set of standards in place that we require our staff to demonstrate and follow. But do we spend enough time focusing on their importance? Our research tells us that those organizations that truly live their standards of behavior every day achieve better results. The senior leaders, managers, and directors (and, ideally, all staff) understand and use the standards of behavior in everyday conversation. It becomes a part of their language so much so that they don’t even realize they are using those words or practicing those behaviors.

Standards of behavior offer staff guidelines to demonstrate the same level of behavior on a daily basis. They serve as a commitment to how we will treat each other and those we interact with. They are so important to setting the tone of the organization that we recommend posting them for visitors to see. This further demonstrates the value those standards have to our organization.

As we think of opportunities to reinforce, teach, and recognize standards in our daily work, we can start by asking ourselves what “right” really looks like and then demonstrate our commitment to the standards by repeating those behaviors. We can share best practices during huddles or department meetings to create a culture that lives by the standards. A great example of an organization that excels in this area is Lafayette General Medical Center. Click here to watch their 60-minute webinar on creating accountability, alignment, and moving team members to a culture of “always.”

Let’s say, for example, that one of your hospital’s standards of behavior is “Commitment to Coworkers.” What do those words, “Commitment to Coworkers,” really mean? It may mean that a coworker covered your shift when you were out sick. It may mean that you stayed a few minutes late to accurately and thoroughly explain a patient’s chart to your colleague before you left for the day.

Here are a few tips you can try at your organization to engage staff and keep the standards top of mind.

  1. Roll out the standards in a fun and interactive way. For example, if one of the standards is “Appearance,” host a fashion show to demonstrate what appropriate work attire looks like.
  2. Tie standards into training and development. Try hosting a series of lunch-and-learn sessions around the standard of “Personal/Professional Development.” These sessions provide departmental training in a fun atmosphere and casual luncheon setting.
  3. Make your standards a part of the onboarding and orientation process. For instance, if one of the standards is “Mentoring,” assign each new staff member to a mentor so they have one person to contact for questions in their new role.
Every organization is different, and yet, the common thread still remains that the standards are in place not only to make the organization better, but to provide the best possible care to our patients. We have some excellent resources and tips on establishing standards of behavior on our website. To access standards examples from various organizations, click here.


  • Bob Murphy

    Bob Murphy, RN, JD

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