One challenge that I see both aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs constantly face is how to get underperforming employees to perform better in order to avoid the difficult process of getting fired. In most cases, I have found that the root of the situation lies in the absence of clear performance expectations. A 2015 Gallup poll of 2.2 million employees across 550 organizations confirms this impression, finding that only half of the employees surveyed fully understood their job responsibilities.
The ability to set and communicate expectations is important to any leader because it creates the foundation for a more productive and less ambiguous work environment. Establishing them effectively not only helps build trust among employees, but also makes them feel valued – because the simple fact is that they usually want to be led … not allowed to do their job, but just hoped that it satisfactory.
Results vary widely when expectations are not clearly defined; one employee may feel underpaid because they have to repeat work or complete tasks more than once, because the desired end result was not clearly defined, others may feel overwhelmed and lagged behind, or underutilized and underestimated. Plus, your needs as a leader are not being met because employees are falling short of expectations. Inappropriate parenting environment, even if unintentionally.
Here’s how you can start to reverse the trend and move forward.
On the subject: Great Leaders Don’t Just Manage Expectations, They Align Them
Set expectations early and often
A clear understanding of what the end result should look like, as well as its purpose (income, new customers, or other tangible results) is what a team needs to thrive. It also builds trust and transparency between this team and its manager, because the former instills confidence that they will approach the task.
It follows that communicating expectations should be one of the first (and most sequential) tasks of a manager, and this can be accomplished through a wide variety of channels. Fundamentals such as a company’s dress code, working hours, and other general information about professional behavior can be laid out in employee guides or other readily available methods. (Just remember that these documents must be updated at least once a year to keep up with changes in the company.) For more detailed questions, frequent checks and reviews of project progress with your team are effective ways to maintain expectations.
Too many entrepreneurs are tempted to give instructions to a team and then let it go without further guidance or support. Unfortunately, this rarely works. Constantly strengthening targets over time just keeps the ball in play. After all, you are the team captain, and when players get close to going out of bounds or start fouls in the game, you need to step in and make sure they understand the rules of the fight and realign their actions. This clarity can also free you from intense supervision over time, because the more employees understand the rules, as well as your comfort zone and what you want to deliver, they will have a mutual level of confidence and a plan with which to work autonomously.
On the subject: 3 steps to help employees understand your goals and expectations
What gets measured gets better
Effective leaders must establish key performance indicators (KIPs) for employees that will move the company forward. When I worked for a multinational corporation, we realized that client deliverables (such as manuals and job descriptions) did not move the business forward. However, when we focused on annual customer retention as a KPI, our business grew. Retention has become both a focus and a new expectation as we didn’t have to work so hard to acquire new customers throughout the year to combat attrition. Our growth was supported by weighted performance.
If you don’t tell them how will they know?
Have you ever made a mistake and no one told you? The next thing you know, you are in the middle of a storm trying to figure out what went wrong. This happens to employees with amazing frequency. If no one wants to tell someone that they fall short or have made a mistake, it creates a lot of drama and frustration. So, if an employee makes a mistake, let him know, but remember to then give directions to get things back to normal. Dumping expectations after such a clear conversation is over is actually easy, and more often than not, you won’t have to repeat yourself unnecessarily.
On the subject: Employees meet expectations only when they know what is expected of them
Finally, setting expectations doesn’t have to be difficult or difficult. Be simple and never assume that the expectations are mutually clear – ask if they understand what you are looking for and give them the opportunity to ask questions. Ultimately, your job as a leader is to help remove obstacles to their achievement.