Have you ever wondered if you were doing a good job, or worried that you’d somehow gotten off-track and just didn’t know it yet? If so, you’re not alone.
When I was a young manager, I was told at my first performance appraisal, “Kathy, you are doing a good job, we just need you to be more of a leader.” “Great,” I said, and I set out to do even more of what I was already doing. The following year at my appraisal I received similar feedback, you’re doing a good job, just need to be more of a leader. I don’t mind sharing that this confused me. As I thought about how I was still falling short in my managers eyes, it started to dawn on me that I really didn’t know what exactly it was that was expected of me. It was becoming obvious that I had a different definition of leader than my boss did. I finally realized that I needed to better understand his expectations in order to succeed. Even though I was trying hard to be successful, I hadn’t received enough information to help me do so.
If you manage others, one of your essential responsibilities as a leader is to clearly and frequently communicate your expectations to them. By defining and articulating performance standards and expectations, you are giving people a detailed road map showing them exactly what they need to do to succeed. Your specific feedback lets the people you manage know when they’re on target and when they’ve fallen short. Many people, once they know and understand what’s expected of them, are naturally driven to achieve and will self-correct when they get off-track. These individuals may seem like they don’t need a lot of feedback from you, but be careful with your assumptions. Everyone needs feedback, which includes positive praise. I’ve never met a single individual who complained to me that their manager gave them too much praise.
Setting expectations is a critical step in the performance management process. Too often leaders skip it altogether or are unclear as to what they want in terms of behaviors and performance results. Vague feedback such as “be more of a team player” or “improve your attitude”, is not specific enough to help someone calibrate their efforts. Your definition of team player and mine may be very different. This is why it’s essential that you are very detailed about what you need from your team members. Verbally paint them a picture and be very detailed. Talk in terms of behaviors. What would it look like (observable behaviors) to meet your expectation to be a good team player? Specifically, what does a team player do (behaviors) and what does a good team player say? When you break your expectations down to this level of specificity, there can be no doubt about your expectations and you substantially increase the odds of your team member’s success.
Part of your role as a leader is to achieve results through the efforts of others, and you will ultimately be judged on that ability. Effectively articulating your standards and expectations, while also addressing performance issues as they arise, allows you to be fair to your employees, drive results, promote positive morale, and protect the interests of the company.
Leading is an active process, not a passive one. Your people are not mind-readers, even though the good ones make you think they are. Set clear and specific expectations and provide frequent feedback (both positive and constructive) to keep your team on track. I guarantee there is someone working for you right now who needs to hear more specific expectations and feedback from you.
What best practices to you use for setting clear expectations? Let us know!