by Kate Russell

Standards of performance

While the job description details the essential functions and the tasks to be done, the performance standard defines how well each function or task must be performed in order to meet or exceed expectations, thus providing a benchmark against which to evaluate work performance.


If they are to have any solid meaning, standards of performance should be written down using the language of the job.

You should ensure that new employees receive a written explanation of the key standards of performance within the first month of employment.

Describe performance expectations in terms of

  • Timelines (deadlines, dates)
  • Cost (budget constraints, limits)
  • Quality (subjective and objective measures of satisfaction)
  • Quantity (how many)
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Independent initiative demonstrated
  • Any other relevant verifiable measure.

It’s useful to specify the acceptable margin for error as it is rare for perfection to be an appropriate standard.

Writing performance standards

Keep in mind the following guidelines when writing your performance standards.

  • Performance standards should be related to the employee’s assigned work and job requirements.
  • Your reporting systems should be adequate to measure and report any quantitative data you list.
  • Quantifiable measures may not apply to all functions. Describe in clear and specific terms the characteristics of performance quality that are verifiable and that would meet or exceed expectations.
  • Accomplishment of organisational objectives – for example, cost-control, improved efficiency, productivity, project completion, process redesign or public service – should be included where appropriate.
  • Standards should be written in clear language, describing the specific behaviours and actions required for work performance to meet, exceed or fail to meet expectations.
  • Use specific terms, describing measurable or verifiable features of the performance.
  • Refer to any specific conditions under which the performance is expected to be accomplished or assessed.
  • Managers’ standards should include categories of leadership, delegation, development of subordinates and performance counselling.

Checking your standards

After you have written your performance standards, check them against the questions in the following list.

  • Are the standards realistic? They should be attainable and consistent with what is necessary to get the job done. Such standards represent the minimum acceptable level of performance for all relevant employees.
  • Are the standards specific? Standards should tell an employee exactly which specific actions and results he is expected to accomplish.
  • Are the standards based on measurable data, on observation, or on information capable of being verified?
  • Are the standards consistent with organisational goals? Standards should link individual (and team) performance to organisational goals and be consistent with these goals.
  • Are the standards challenging? Although realistic, standards should describe performance requirements that challenge employees, a crucial element in motivating them.
  • Are the standards clear and understandable? The employees whose work is to be evaluated on the basis of the standards should understand them.
  • Are the standards dynamic? As organisational goals, technologies, operations or experiences change, standards should evolve to reflect that.