Woman Explaining To A Team

Be clear on performance expectations

Then get out of the way

Written by Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM
3 minute read
Woman Explaining To A Team

When consultants are hired by organisations to investigate performance shortcomings, one of the most common findings is that staff do not know what is expected of them.

The most common reaction of managers on hearing this finding is disbelief followed shortly after by dismay. “How could they possibly be unsure about what their job is” the manager exclaims, “I’ve told them a thousand times”.

On closer inspection, there is a misunderstanding about the word “expectations”.

The manager expects their staff to fulfill the role as described in their job description and, more generally, to do whatever is required to get the job done.

Herein lies the problem, what exactly does getting the job done mean?

Job descriptions are often lists of duties or a series of actions deemed appropriate for the role. They say little about the specific outcomes or targets for the next period.

It is these specifics that the follower needs. This is what they mean by “expectations”.

Once staff know the specific targets, they are often better placed than their manager to know what actions and behaviours are required to achieve these targets.

This is especially true of people who are experienced in the role. They know that some of the actions described in the job description are not going to contribute to achieving the targets.

As their manager, you have the choice of forcing them to blindly follow the job description or making sure they are crystal clear about the performance targets and then getting out of their way.

By choosing the second option, you demonstrate your confidence and trust in them and are also able to hold them accountable for the outcome.

You should continue to offer them the level of support they require, check in on them occasionally, offer feedback as appropriate and then, stop interfering.

A bonus outcome from agreeing specific targets is that the performance management process becomes much easier. Both you and the staff member know what the targets are and you both know whether they have been achieved.

It is a bit like the sporting team that walks into the changing room at half time, there is usually no need for the coach to tell the players the score. This frees everyone up to focus on the second half - what needs to be done to overcome any shortcomings or to capitalise on the current position.

Just like a manager in an organisation, the coach can’t play every position or do all the work; the coach can only set specific targets and then rely on the players to deliver.

One small step in the next 24 hours

Develop a short list of specific targets for each of your direct reports.

Meet with them individually to discuss the targets, agree that they are appropriate or make modifications.

Once agreed, you can explore what needs to happen in order to achieve these outcomes.

Give the staff member the chance to do most of the talking and try to capture some of the ideas so the job description can be updated for future reference.

Agree to a timeframe when you will meet to check progress and to provide whatever support is required.

Once staff know the specific targets, they are often better placed than their manager to know what actions and behaviours are required to achieve these targets.