Every manager and supervisor knows that a key part of performance management is setting expectations for subordinates. As they also know, this is often easier said than done.
What gets in the way of this necessary task? First, the manager or supervisor may not feel comfortable being so directive. They need to get over this. It’s their job. If some introductory talking points will help, here are a few ideas:
- “Sue, I want to sit down and be sure we’re on the same page about your job duties. Let’s meet on Thursday and discuss them.
- “Joe, I think things will go much smoother for both of us if we sit down and get clear on your job duties and how I want you to do certain tasks.
- “Chris, I’m sensing that things are not going smoothly for you in the workgroup. Let’s meet and see how we can make things better. [Regarding relationship or behavior issues.]
Second, many managers and supervisors don’t really know what an effective expectation looks like. The general rule when creating expectations is that they should be S.M.A.R.T:
Third, some expectations are easier to write than others. If you’re discussing a time and attendance problem or specific aspects of job performance, it’s pretty straightforward. But setting expectations for behavior or more complex problems can be harder:
- It does not help, for example, to just tell an employee that her “attitude” needs to change. More helpful: “Employee needs to improve her attitude. Specifically, she needs to stop rolling her eyes and sighing loudly when she disagrees with her supervisor or others, to stop using profanity when she is frustrated, and to only criticize others, if necessary, in private and not in front of others.”
- Similarly, it does not help to just tell an employee that he needs to improve his “communication skills.” What exactly does that mean? What does it look like? More helpful: “Employee needs to improve his communication skills. More specifically, he needs to initiate conversations with colleagues and managers, answer questions when asked, maintain appropriate eye contact, speak clearly, and not walk away in the middle of conversations.”
- Poor writing is another tough one, especially since most managers and supervisors are not skilled at identifying what’s wrong with an employee’s writing; all they know is it’s bad. It may be necessary in these cases to consult with someone who can analyze the writing errors so that you can set expectations that address them. E.g., “Your written reports need to be easier for others to read. A few tips: Use shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences. Avoid excessive underlining and use of capital letters for emphasis. Avoid unnecessary history and other details. Use bullet points to make important information clear and succinct.”
Next, managers and supervisors may fear that the meeting with the employee to discuss the expectations will be difficult and uncomfortable. It may be. But if the manager takes an approach that is calm, friendly, and non-accusatory — but firm — that is less likely to happen. It is also helpful for the manager to approach the meeting as a coach (explained here), not a disciplinarian.
Finally, some managers and supervisors are hesitant to write things down — it seems too authoritarian or they may not be great writers themselves. The bottom line, however, is that the expectations need to be documented in a writing that is given to the employee at the meeting or sent via email afterward. If it’s not a performance review or formal memo situation, setting out the expectations in a few clear bullet points is sufficient. Just be sure to date it.
Any other thoughts regarding expectations? ~Amy Stephson