When I talk to managers and leaders, the theme of high performance is a frequent topic of conversation. We can all agree that being a great organisation and providing exceptional products or services are important, but does everyone we work with know what we actually mean by excellence in the day-to-day?
6 ways to set clear expectations for high performance
Too often, managers seem to lead through mental telepathy. Without clearly communicated expectations—in terms of standards or the milestones against which we test our progress—employees may not know what to do and how to do it. This can result in uncertainty, undermining effective teamwork, initiative and productivity.
Properly setting expectations for employees or team members is a critical dimension in quality workplaces, according to a large study of managers undertaken in the 1990s by The Gallup Organization. Below are some tips on setting clear expectations that will set standards for excellence and results.
- Start with creating a compelling vision. Describe and explain what you want the end result to look like. Not just what you want done, but the purpose and the results you want to achieve when the project is completed and the role of each person in its achievement. People want to know that their role, whether large or small, makes a difference.
- Discuss what you mean by “excellent performance“. This step is needed to make the vision ‘actionable’ and translate it into tangible performance measures. Set metrics where possible, paint a complete picture of the standards you are expecting. Refer to your performance review form or competency framework for behavioural standards.
- Focus on the expected outcomes, rather than on the exact steps you want your team members to take. Think of this as coaching rather than controlling. Encouraging your people to design their own way of delivering positive outcomes allows each team member to use their strengths to their fullest potential.
- Give frequent feedback. The annual appraisal or performance review is insufficient and often too late to let staff members know how and whether they are meeting your expectations. Give feedback along the way: describe the context, refer to the vision and give your reasons for the feedback. Next plan for a way forward, ask for more or less of what you observed. Take a coaching, rather than disciplinarian approach. The more two-way communication, the greater the clarity around the expectations.
- Give positive reinforcement. Unless you are especially skilled at giving feedback, don’t use the ‘sandwich’ of positive – constructive –positive comments. As Ken Blanchard suggest in One Minute Manager, catch people doing things right and you’ll get more of it.
- Give people the freedom to perform well. Once the expectations are clear get out of the way and allow people to meet them. Having set clear standards, milestones or deadlines, each team member will have the ability to track their own progress, check whether they are meeting the milestones and behavioural standards. This approach also allow individuals be accountable for delivering their own work, so that they can course correct where needed or stay on track to make their full contribution.
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High quality and productive meetings can play an important part in achieving excellent team performance. Download the Positive Team Meeting Checklist to help you motivate your team with purpose: