The value of providing expectations: Performance feedback proliferates and becomes more artful

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I’ve written several articles lately about providing expectations to your team on how to perform.  These articles describe how to increase the artfulness of providing expectations or setting expectations for behavior.  For example, the expectations should:

– reflect team input

– be set earlier rather than later

– include standards of performance where documented

–provided general guardrails of behavior

– should attempt to tie into the larger strategy

I’ve also written articles about how providing performance feedback to your team as a key management skill.  Now let’s take a look at an example of how providing expectations can help you in providing performance feedback.

1.   Performance feedback you provide happens more naturally, immediately and specifically

If you have provided expectations for how the team works together, and the guardrails of behavior are established in some form, you now have a context and standard of performance to start any performance feedback discussion when you see the need for someone to change what they are doing.  Let’s take a look at a performance feedback example:

In this example, you, the manager, created the “guardrail” expectation that the team “will foster an atmosphere of sharing ideas.”   That’s the expectation you shared with your team.

Later, you are in a team meeting discussing resource allocation on projects in the coming quarter.  Joan, a member of your team, recommends that they do an analysis based on a framework she’s familiar with.

Alex then says, “I’ve used that framework, it’s stupid and won’t work.”

OK,is Alex staying within the guardrails of the expectations of behavior?  No!  You determine that calling someone’s idea “stupid” does not meet the performance standard of “fostering an atmosphere of sharing ideas.”

Now you can provide performance feedback on the spot to Alex that is both specific and immediate:

“Alex, we set the expectation that we will foster an atmosphere of sharing ideas.  I don’t think that your comment fosters an atmosphere of sharing ideas.  We’ll have a chance to discuss the relative merits of all ideas when we analyze them.  Let’s focus now on getting ideas on the table for improving our resource allocation.”

Many managers consider it taboo to give corrective feedback in front of others.  This is manager’s choice based on the organizational and larger cultural context.   However, in this case, it could be considered appropriate to give feedback on the spot only because the expectation for behavior has already been set, Alex has clearly gone outside the expectation of behavior. (And the meeting needed to be put back on track.)

In any case, the Manager needs to address this specifically and immediately either during the event or soon thereafter.  When someone goes outside the guardrails, people on the team expect the manager to provide this feedback, and the sooner the better. Or else you risk that team members will start to understand that the expectations are no longer expectations.  (And if the manager him- or herself goes outside the expectations of behavior, that generates further problems.)

Note that the feedback needs to be given in a behavior-based way (see my articles on behavior-based language), and needs to avoid the common mistake of adding generalizations or value judgments.  The manager should not, for example, pile on “This is something you always do” (generalization) or say, “Don’t be stupid” (value judgment).  I would expect someone in a manager role to be able to provide feedback artfully.

If you have not done so already, you can provide this as an expectation during the next expectation-setting process:

If you observe someone going outside the guardrails for how we are to work together, expect me to provide corrective feedback specifically and immediately.

2. Others on the team provide performance feedback

Another value in providing expectations for how the team performs is that team members will start to self-regulate and provide the performance feedback between them.  Remember when you took the team input on how the team works together and then have it then be part of the expectations?  This is where it pays dividends, as it helps remove the burden from the manager to be the sole feedback-provider.

In our example with Joan and Alex, let’s say two weeks later Alex chimes in again, “I think that idea is totally stupid and won’t work.”

In this case, since the expectation has been set that the team will foster an environment to share ideas, now others on the team are more likely to jump in to correct Alex’s behavior, since it came from them.  It doesn’t have to be the manager that will correct the behavior (especially if the manager isn’t there), but perhaps Larry:

Larry:  “Alex, let’s try to foster an environment of sharing ideas.  Calling someone’s idea stupid doesn’t qualify.”

So now the feedback – still specific, immediate and related to a behavior, is coming from other members of the team, and not just from the manager.  Because the atmosphere of teamwork demands that the team self-regulate to achieve its goals while working within the provided expectations, the team will start to correct and improve each other’s behaviors to be within the guardrails and focused on the outcomes.

This is the power of providing artful expectations – it enables you the manager to correct behaviors against an already established expectation, allows for more specific and immediate feedback, and it enables other team members to do the same.  The burden shifts from the manager having to “run the team” and toward team “running itself.”

Have you ever seen it where a team takes ownership of the behavior expectations and self-regulates?  Have you ever seen it where this didn’t happen at all?  What was the difference?

Related Articles:

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

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

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Examples of how to improve employee corrective feedback and how to get rid of damaging adverbs

Behavior-based language primer for managers: How to tell if you are using behavior-based language

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

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Stop using generalizations

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 expectations: If there are established performance criteria, then make them known!

The art of providing expectations: Get input and the earlier the better

The art of providing expectations: Tie the expectations to the larger strategy

If you’re the manager, it’s your job not to act surprised

The art of providing expectations: Describe the general guidelines of behavior

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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 .

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