Developing Functional Standards Framework

Functional Standards are descriptions of output expected at a given level of responsibility to fulfill the role of the relevant function in the business.

Business Imperative

For survival and growth, businesses are continuously seeking to improve productivity and quality of their processes. They are also seeking to innovate better processes and products.

While some ‘innovation consultants’ claim that all the ideas for improvement are already there in the minds of employees, we disagree. We do believe that there are many low hanging fruits, in terms of improvement ideas, in the minds of some employees, waiting to be discovered. But for truly significant improvements and innovations to be achieved over time, it is important first to turn employees’ attention to functional excellence, and create in them desire to achieve higher levels of excellence. It is from this urge that a steady stream of improvements and innovations will flow.

Our pioneering work on what we call ‘Functional Standards’ promises just such outcomes, when taken to its logical conclusion.

Typical Intervention Process

We have defined Functional Standards as descriptions of output expected at a given level of responsibility to fulfill the role of the relevant function in the business.

We study laid down process documents of the client organization, combine them with widely accepted global research on what is appropriate work for different levels of responsibility, to arrive at a client- specific framework of managerial work by levels. We then temper this output through interviews with relevant role-holders. The final framework is usually seen by the managers as highly relevant and aspirational for them, and achievable over time.


Functional Standards have immediate applications such as:

1.Aligning job designs

2.Designing rigorous selection processes

3.Designing employee development plans aligned to business goals

The outcome of implementing such a framework is that employees’ minds turn towards functional excellence. This then leads to higher and higher levels of excellence in individual and collective work, improving productivity and quality, and leading eventually to innovations.


One often comes across hard-working managers who spend long hours at work, and impress with their level of detailed knowledge of work going on in their departments. Usually, this is a sign of a problem – of work getting done at inappropriate levels.

And yet, who should do what work can be the subject of unresolvable debates.

In our observation of typical business organizations, we find that:

Isolated job descriptions, and job-specific skill lists, are to be found in many organizations. There is no practice of developing a comprehensive framework linking the work of all unique jobs, explaining how work actually cascades from the business goals to all employees.

This, essentially, is the void that our Functional Standards framework fills. It then goes down-stream, defining knowledge and skill requirements, developmental suggestions, and on to assessment tools and learning programs.

By the time this much has been put in place, typically, two to three years have gone by. And the function is now ‘under control’, we would argue, for the first time. From here on, advanced practices, be it lean management, automation, or specific process outsourcing, can be systematically incorporated, bringing about step jumps in functional performance.

Case Studies

At a leading consumer bank in the private sector, the process was driven by the requirement of the organization to sift through its large pool of branch managers, to identify those who could be considered for the Cluster Manager role. They needed assessment processes with behavioral as well as functional parameters. We entered into a strict Non Disclosure Agreement, and then interviewed senior managers, and studied the bank’s processes. We also studied aspects such as the anticipated regulatory environment of the future, and analyzed the competitive dynamics among the key players in the industry. Based on the information gathered and the analyses, within six months, we had obtained buy-in, and published the Functional Standards for all the functions within the Retail Liabilities business. We then proceeded on to assessing high performing branch managers on the framework, providing valuable feedback to them and their managers to spur focused development.

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