Quit Moving the Target: How to Set Clear Expectations and Not Drive Your Employees Crazy

Female archer in the field at sunsetHave you ever felt like you are chasing a moving target?  My first supervisor had me feeling like that constantly.  I had to commiserate with my teammates and turn it in to a joke so we wouldn’t go crazy.  We called it the “Gwen Guessing Game”*, or the “G3″ for short.  I don’t know if it was the type of job it was, the fact that many of us we’re right out of college, or maybe it was just the way she had learned to manage her team, but we found it very hard to understand her expectations.

Gwen made a lot of requests; the problem was they were always vague.  She would provide little to no direction about how to successfully carry out a request… just a “get it done” kind of attitude.  I’m not saying we needed the hand-holding, coddling type of directions (no one wants to be micro-managed!) but there was never any explanation of what getting it “done” entailed, or what “done” even looked like. Picture Meryl Streep (Miranda Priestly) in The Devil Wears Prada…. “That’s all.”

I can look back now and see that my frustration was coming from a lack of engagement and knowing what my target was.  How was I ever going to figure out if what I was doing was exceeding, or even meeting expectations if I didn’t know what the expectations were? How would I move up and grow in my profession? Needless to say, I didn’t stay long.

Gwen probably hated this time of year.  Now that budget season is coming to a close and the focus is shifting to performance planning it’s the perfect time to set, or reset, expectations. Communicating expectations sounds so simple but if you look at it in the context of performance planning it’s actually only one piece of several interconnected activities.  Taking a systematic approach to performance planning gives you the framework to communicate how the work of your team is to be accomplished and enables you to support your employees’ performance while they work to achieve their goals and the goals of the organization.

“We cannot focus on improvement in processes without a complementary focus on the people we rely on to do the work.”

With the increased focus on accountability and people performance, particularly in the public sector, there is an increased demand for supervisors to communicate performance expectations more effectively. When you combine that with the cultural workplace shift where employees expect more personal conversations, there is a need for supervisors to master performance-focused conversations.

A few things to keep in mind when planning and engaging in performance-focused conversations include:

  • Remember that both parties need to prepare for the process; employees should develop personal goals and supervisors need to communicate what is expected for the meeting
  • Look at past, present and future to determine your expectations
  • Consider individual context, goals, capabilities, and potential stretch goals
  • Be authentic and supportive in order to build shared ownership of the process

The more effort you put in to improving performance conversations, the more likely you are to get to a shared understanding of expectations…. And not cause your employees to play the G3.  This small, but important step in the performance planning process can set the stage for an increase in successful performance and greater employee satisfaction.

*Actual names not used to protect the not-so-innocent

Leadership & Management
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