Clearly Communicate Expectations

I must be easily amazed.

Two posts ago I wrote about how amazed I was at leaders who put up with poor performers. In this post, I want to express my amazement at how many leaders think their employees know what is expected of them.

Whenever I’m faced with an employee performance issue, the first question I ask a leader is, “Does the employee know what is expected of them?”

The answer is usually, “Of course!”

I then ask, “Have you specifically communicated that expectation to the employee?”

The reply is usually, “They should know that!”

Let’s be frank here, employees are not mind readers (well, most are not). Unless you tell an employee in clear specific terms what you expect from them, you should expect a gap in performance.

What should be included when communicating your expectations? Think of the questions a reporter is trained to ask:

  • Who? Who is involved, who is doing what, who has authority or responsibility for the task.
  • What? what exactly do you expect in terms of an output or completed task. Include qualitative and quantitative measures. For qualitative measures, use a Lipert scale of expected output.
  • When? When should the task be completed, what is the deadline. Include milestone deliverables with dates AND times.
  • Where? Where should the employee turn for help, resources…
  • Why? You might forget this but it’s important to help tie the task to the larger departmental or organizational impact.
  • How? Leave this one to the employee, providing only required spending or other operational (or moral/ethical) guidelines. Give too much “how” and you become a micro-manager.

Before you take progressive or disciplinary action on an employee for poor performance, ask yourself, “Have I truly communicated my performance expectations in clear and specific terms?”

Then ask yourself, “Did I give them an opportunity to restate to me their understanding of and commitment to those expectations?”

If  you’re not sure of the answer to either of these questions, write down your expectations and schedule a meeting with the employee.

Perhaps the issue facing you is one of communication and not poor performance.