Examples of using expectations to improve your performance feedback

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The Manager by Designsm blog writes about the art of providing performance feedback.  That’s because performance feedback is a fundamental skill needed for managers to perform their jobs as managers.

One important aspect of providing feedback is that it is based on some sort of standard, a bar that has been set, or a series of expectations of performance.  So let’s talk about it!

In my prior article, I offer providing expectations as an alternative to giving public feedback.  But there are more advantages to setting expectations than being perceived as a forward, clear thinking manager who knows what she wants and how to get there.

I suppose that’s reason enough, but there are more reasons to hone your skills at providing expectations!

Providing expectations also give you the ability to give performance feedback more effectively.

The formula is simple: If you’ve set a performance bar in advance, when you give feedback to your employee you can now measure against that expected performance.

What’s amazing is how infrequently this is performed by managers.  So I hereby set the performance expectations to managers:  Have you set performance expectations to your employees?  If so, great!  You are now ahead of the game.

Let’s look at examples of identifying expectations for performance prior to having to give feedback:

You are starting a big systems upgrade project. And you set the following expectations:

a)     Strive toward staying on budget and timeline.

b)     Identify the level of quality we can achieve based on the budget and timeline, and strive toward it

c)     Bring up issues to me that could get in the way of successful completion of the project

d)     Bring up ideas for improving the project and its progress

e)     Participate actively

f)      Work in a collaborative manner that focuses on resolving problems

These are some pretty basic expectations, but the mere act of articulating them shows that you care about these parameters.  It’s OK to start basic!  It’s better than the frequently observed alternative:  The overly broad expectation of “just get it done.”

Now that you have identified these basic expectations, when it comes time to give feedback on performance, you can examine which aspect of performance you’ve observed has, indeed, met the expectations that you set out.  So when you give performance feedback, you now have a basis for discussion.

Let’s say that someone on the team hid from you a big problem in the project (the new hardware systems are delayed in delivery).  You find out two weeks later only after you specifically asked about the hardware system delivery.  Clearly, the team didn’t “Bring up issues to me that could get in the way of successful completion of the project.”   That was one of your expectations!  (You might want to document this in your performance log, to help identify patterns and track improvement in employee performance.)

So when you give performance feedback, you can cite this expectation in setting the context of the performance feedback discussion:

“At the outset of the project, I set the expectation that issues that could delay or otherwise hurt the project should be discussed with me.  However, I found out about the hardware delay two weeks after it was identified as an issue.”

Now, the focus is not on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing that the team kept this info from you; the focus is instead on what caused the issue. So this is the next item to discuss:

“Let’s talk about what caused this to happen.”

This should be an open discussion with your employee(s) on the causes for not meeting the performance bar.

Finally, this makes providing the alternative action more obvious and precise, since it isn’t the first time the employees have heard this:

“When something like this arises, I expect it to be communicated to me in a timely manner.”

So in this scenario, the manager has been consistent, the performance feedback has been consistent with the expectations, and the likelihood of the team doing this again becomes less.

Providing expectations is a useful activity!

Does your manager consistently provide expectations on what the expected performance bar is?  Does the feedback provided to you tie back to those expectations?  For you management designers out there, what do you do to assure that managers consistently provide expectations?

Related Articles:

Examples of providing expectations to your team

The Art of Providing Feedback: Make it Specific and Immediate

Examples of when to offer thanks and when to offer praise

“Thanks for your Hard Work” vs. “Thanks for your Good Work”

Check your usage of the word “just.” It could mean you’re managing from a deficit

When an employee does something wrong, it’s not always about the person. It’s about the system, too.

Providing corrective feedback: Trend toward tendencies instead of absolutes

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Avoid using value judgments

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Stop using generalizations

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


10 Responses to “Examples of using expectations to improve your performance feedback”
  1. davidburkus says:

    A basic yet underutilized tool. It’s hard to live up to expectations when they remain unknown. Good post.

  2. Thanks, David! It’s strange how infrequently expectations are defined.

  3. Berry Zimmerman sent us to your blog sayig how awesome your beliefs are. Love to read and hear more! You should get Bruce Tulgan’s new book, out this month, How to Manage Your Boss

  4. Thanks Carolyn! New Manager by Design articles are published twice a week. I hope you subscribe. I’ll check out the book!

  5. Pat says:

    It’s nice to have a ‘script’–“Let’s talk about how this happened.” It makes the manager approachable and indicates that he/she is open to hearing the employee’s side of the story. It’s often fear that they manager will ‘blow his top’ when he hears bad news that keeps employees from informing him/her.

  6. Good point about having scripts for managers. A script is in its own way a form of setting expectations for performance.


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