Clear Performance Expectations

Results and Expectations Concept EXPECTATIONS = RESULTS

Why is there often a difference between what you expect and what you get from employees?

One of the most frustrating parts of being a manager is having expectations and being let down when employees don’t perform as expected. If you are a supervisor, you have likely faced this common dilemma. You ask an employee to complete a task that seems simple to you. And, you are disappointed by what you get.

Each time you are disappointed, you have an opportunity to assess whether your expectations were really clear. Here are five things that can help make your expectations clear the first time:


  • Success Criteria – Before you turn the employee loose on the task, say this to the employee: “This project/task/job will be successful if (fill in the blank).” By articulating this one idea, you will clarify the end results you envision, which increases the likelihood that the employee will see the same end result.
  • Completion Date – This might sound obvious, but we often forget to share with the employee our expectation for when the job should be done. If you expect the task will be done by Friday or by 5:00 or by the end of the year, tell them.
  • Interim Progress or Final Reports – Just like with the completion date, if you expect them to check in with you at intervals throughout the task, request that up front. Sometimes, asking the employee to check in with you periodically can ensure that the employee doesn’t go too far down the wrong path.
  • Level Authority
    Be clear about how far the employee can go in terms of decision-making. Do you reserve the right to make the final decision?  Do you want the employee to bring you recommendations?  Do you expect the employee will carry out the task without any further input from you? There is not a right or wrong here.  Just be clear.
  • Areas of Risk or Visibility – As a supervisor, your job is to give the employee all the information they need to do the job as expected. Sometimes that means giving them a “heads up” as to any areas of potential problem or political sensitivities involved in the job. For example, you might warn them that the project is a high priority for the CEO and the outcome will be carefully scrutinized. Or, if the project is likely to meet resistance by others, the employee should be made aware of these potential challenges.
We never expect to be misunderstood. However, it’s easy to be unclear about our expectations. Remember, your goal is to help your employees succeed. When they are successful, you are successful.


Listen to the Painless Performance Evaluations webinarGetting Clear: Establishing Performance Expectations for Employees and read Chapters 3 and 6 of Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day-to-Day Employee Performance for more tools on developing clear expectations.
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