Make employee expectations clear to ALL performers

Dear Joan:
I’m a frequent reader and first time writer. I work as a consultant in the area of performance management, and I enjoyed your recent column about setting clear expectations for poor performers. You hit upon some key points relative to poor performers and the approach to dealing with them. I found, however, that it fell short of where I hoped you were going.

I propose that your follow up column should be entitled, "Make employee expectations clear to ALL performers." Too many organizations fall short in providing employees a clear path to success by not defining performance expectations up front. This includes what it takes to be a star, not just what it takes to keep their jobs. Ideally, it would also include a dialogue with the employee that goes something like this: "And how can we help you get there?"

I always make a point to talk to groups of employees whenever I work with an organization. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say, "I asked my manager what it would take to be an ‘outstanding’ performer, and he/she only told me that hardly anyone ever gets that performance rating." And the manager will just tell me, "Well, if he/she was really a good performer, she/he would just know what’s expected." How depressing is that?

I can imagine every consultant who is reading this is nodding his or her head and saying, "Boy, you aren’t kidding." Like you, I often interview employees when I am gathering information for a client project. Many don’t have a clue about what is expected of them until they get a slap on the hand or a pat on the back.

Some people don’t even get that much. It’s almost as if some managers play the game: Go ahead and try to figure out what I want. Don’t worry, I will let you know when you screw up. That’s why so many employees tell me, "If I don’t hear anything I must be doing okay." To their shock and amazement, many employees only discover any bad news at their performance review…or worse…when they’re fired.

Managers would get into less trouble—and be a whole lot more inspiring—if they would pay attention to the Bedrock Rules of Management. They aren’t fancy and there aren’t many of them. That’s what I like about these simple rules. They are simply the answers to the five questions every employee wants to know:

  1. What is expected of me?

Have you sat down with new employees and told them what your expectations are regarding their key priorities? Have you discussed your specific examples about what makes up an "excellent" employee? Have you shared your customer service philosophy? If not, don’t expect employees to pick it up through mental telepathy and subtle hints.

Develop job descriptions that are meaningful and clear. Discuss new projects in detail with your experienced employees, so they, too, know what you are looking for.

  1. How am I doing?

Without ongoing feedback about their day-to-day performance, employees are in the dark. Imagine playing golf with a blindfold on. Without someone telling you where the holes were and how you were doing, the game would get pretty dull. Even though most of us know how we are doing in general, we still want to make improvements or get a pat on the back when we are on target. It keeps the game fun and motivating.

  1. Where do I stand?

I once asked my Client Services Manager, "Do you really want a performance review this year? After all, I give you feedback all the time." She answered, "Of course I do. You may tell me little things all the time, but I still want to know where I stand overall." Point well taken.

  1. How can I improve?

Even your best employees want to hone their skills and keep getting better. You owe your employees the help and coaching they need to close gaps in their performance. That’s why they pay you the big bucks.

  1. How can I grow and stay challenged?

Employees don’t look at jobs as places to grow old; they see them as places to grow. If you won’t help them, they’ll look somewhere else. Young people, in particular, evaluate job satisfaction based upon the amount of training, challenge and growth their jobs give them. Ask each of your employees: What new things have you learned in the last year or two? If they can’t name anything, don’t be surprised if they are job hunting soon.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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