The art of providing expectations: If there are established performance criteria, then make them known!

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The Manager by Design blog seeks to provide great people and team management tips.  An important skill that managers need to have is the act of providing expectations for how the team and individuals operate.  In a previous post, I provided examples of providing expectations to your team.  It today’s post, I start a series of tips on how to better improve how managers provide expectations to their employees.  I call it the art of providing expectations.

We’ll start with the basics:  If there is a specific, established performance standard for something your staff must do, then make this known. 

Here’s what I’m talking about.  Let’s say that there are basic items that your staff must do and to a standard of quality that your staff must perform on an ongoing basis.  You need to provide expectations for how these tasks are done and to what level of quality.  Of course this is done all the time in many organizations, but there are many orgs that newly formed, fast growing, or simply disorganized enough where this has yet to be done.  Let’s look at some examples of these:

In an IT department, it could be requirements gathering, and the document that is produced in the process.

In a strategy development group, the development process of the strategy (i.e., who needs to be discussed with and approval process), and the actual strategy document.

In a business development group, the core elements of a contract that must be performed and following the process for getting them processed. 

Other basic expectations of behavior could be the following:  When to show up for work (if this is important in your org), response time to inquiries from customers, when status updates are due, to whom, and in what format. 

So many things. . .  The common denominator for these “basic tasks” are that they are ongoing, repeatable, and proven that they can be performed by the average performer on your staff. 

1.      Identify what the basic things you expect anyone on your staff to do.

So think about the things on your staff that you expect them to do that are ongoing, repeatable, and proven to be able to be done.   Now, is this documented anywhere?  Or is there an implicit understanding that these things are performed?  If you haven’t made this clear to your staff that these things are done on an ongoing basis, now is the time to start.

2.     Identify what the basic standard of performance is for each of these items

Let’s look at the example of the status report: It’s one thing to say, “Everyone needs to provide a status report.”  But does it describe what an adequate status report is, and when it must be provided, and who gets it?  (It doesn’t have to be only to the manager – it could be to your partner teams and customers.) You need to say what the elements of the status report are, provide a format, and when and to whom they should be provided, and, if you are really doing well, when it’s OK not to do a status report. 

In the example of a business requirements document, what is the format, elements and level of thoroughness you expect?  Surely it is something that is done repeatedly and often for a Functional Analyst, but has it been articulated to your team what these expectations are?

3.       Provide an example of adequate performance

An easy way to establish criteria of performance is providing an example of an “artifact” that meets the criteria of performance:  A sample status report, a sample business requirements document, a sample contract, a sample item from production.  Note that these sample items should be indicative of the basic standard of performance, and not examples that far exceed the expected performance bar.   If you put out the most complex contract or the most thorough business requirements document as the example of what good performance looks like, then by definition your entire staff will never meet the performance, and waste a lot of time trying to meet it.  Try to identify the basic standard of performance that you can reasonably expect your team to execute rather than put the bar so high that people on your team won’t even bother to do it, fail trying, or spend too much time succeeding.

If you lack samples of what adequate performance looks like, then this is an indicator that you actually don’t expect that performance at all.  You may secretly wish it, but that doesn’t mean that the standard exists yet.  If it’s important to you, time to start now!

4.       Provide feedback on whether these basic tasks are being performed

It’s one thing to establish basic task expectations for your staff, but it’s another thing to then ignore whether they are meeting this standard.  If there are specific standards for what your team is to produce and at what quality, managers need to provide performance feedback as to whether this standard has been met.  You’d think that this is an obvious task for a manager, but is it?  How frequently is this actually done?

So the first part of providing expectations for your team is to identify the basic output of the team and the standard of performance.  This is easier done for the things that are ongoing, repeatable, and have already been done adequately before.  So focus on these!

In future posts I’ll discuss providing expectations for more complex issues such as how a team works together and the development of something that has yet to be done before.  For now, think about the things that your team is capable of doing and provide the expectation that they do it.

For you management designers out there – what infrastructure and expectations do you provide your managers to do this seemingly obvious task?  What standards of performance have you set for your managers to establish standards of performance for their staff?

Related Articles:

Examples of providing expectations to your team

Examples of using expectations to improve your performance feedback

Performance feedback is a means to improve your expectation-providing skills

The Art of Providing Feedback: Make it Specific and Immediate

An example of giving specific and immediate feedback and a frightening look into the alternatives

Examples of when to offer thanks and when to offer praise

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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 .


2 Responses to “The art of providing expectations: If there are established performance criteria, then make them known!”


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  1. […] Using existing performance criteria for specific tasks […]

  2. […] the example software code, if, after looking at a sample, it is far from your expected level of quality, and it is hard to determine why it is so, then taking the step of directly observing the person […]

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