Make your life easier. Set clear expectations.

Make your life easier. Set clear expectations.

Often we get calls to help leaders with the challenges of the performance conversation. While there are absolutely things you can do make those conversations better when you are in them, the most important thing you can do to make performance conversations simpler is set clear expectations from the beginning.

If you have laid out the standard you expect, the deadline for delivery and what good looks like to you, and you have gained their agreement to those expectations, it is much simpler to address gaps when they occur.

Now, I will say, that setting expectations is situational. If you have someone that you have worked with forever, who ‘gets’ how you operate and delivers to a high standard, you probably don’t need to worry too much about the particulars. But if

  1. what they are doing is critically important to you
  2. there is a significant price tag attached to the task, or
  3. you have had issues with their delivery in the past

I can’t stress enough the importance of setting clear expectations.

So how do we set clear expectations?

Many of us have heard of SMART goals.   SMART is a way of ensuring that the expectations (or goals) you set for someone else are clear – they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Bound. These are great sense checks to think about.   What I do find though,  is that although we know our goals should be SMART, we don’t exactly know how to write them or delegate them to make sure they are. So I suggest you lay out the ROAD you want people to follow.

R is for Rationale.

Why are you asking them to do this? This is very important because context matters if you want somebody to use his or her judgment. How I might structure data, what type of report back I give you, what types of questions I might ask will all depend on the context of why I am doing what I am doing.   We usually try to tie the task back to the strategic plan or mission and vision of the company so the person can see the importance of this task (and their contribution) to the wider organization.   This also helps drive engagement.

  • To support our customer retention strategy….

O is for Outcome.

What is the result you are looking for them to achieve? This is where standards are really important. What does good look like? You are not describing how you want them to work or steps to follow, you are describing the outcome or output that you want for the task.   We manage people by outcome not process because if you lay out everything they are supposed to do you a) minimize their engagement levels and b) you’re not teaching them to think

  • Deliver customer servicer training that gets an evaluation score of 4.5/5 or higher and increases our call ratings from customers by 15%

The more that you can make Outcomes tangible measurements the better because the more tangible and measurable it is, the less debate you have about whether somebody achieved that standard or not.

So what do you do if the outcome can’t be quantified?

That’s okay. You simply need to make sure you have the same understanding of success for the task. Describe for them in no uncertain terms what ‘good’ looks like. And if this is someone who is new in the role, new to your team or new to working with you, you might want to spend a little time on what achieving and over achieving looks likes. For example, “if you did this and this, that would be exceeding my expectations”, just to give them some ideas.

A is for Actions

What do they need to pay attention to ? What specific actions do you require them to take? The A specifies anything within that task that is critical that you want them to do. We manage people by outcome , but there maybe things you need them to do in order to be successful.  This may also include how you want them to behave or operate to achieve the task.

  • “I need you to include this stakeholder in the design of the training because they will need to support the roll out.”
  • “I need the training to cover 80% of our population, otherwise it wouldn’t have the impact we are looking for.”
  • “I need this group to be trained first because they are most critical to me.”
  • “I want to make sure this is a collaborative effort.  We need the participation of all the teams involved to shape the right solution, so make sure gather input and insight”

D is for Deadline

When is it to be done by? We can get a bit flippant about deadlines and not be as specific as we should, tossing out ‘in Q3” or “next week”.   Just check your deadline with yourself. If you say next week and they don’t deliver til 5pm on Friday are you okay with that?   If not, you need to adjust your deadline.

  • First program should be run by Sept 30th with a review completed by October 15th.

So that’s the road you want people to follow. That’s a really useful framework for setting out an expectation.  But we don’t just drop expectations on the table and walk away. There are a couple of things you should check:

Check Understanding
Make sure they truly understand or you may find you don’t get what you were looking for. Ways to check:

  • Get them to repeat the task back to you
  • Have them explain the task in their own words
  • Have them ask you questions about the task

Confirm they agree.
Ask the individual to confirm this is something they can do by the deadline and get them to explicitly say ‘yes I can do this’ . Then there is no hesitation for you in coming back to them if they don’t deliver.

See how motivated they are.
Yes, they said that they can do it. Great.   But how exciting and motivating is it for them? And yes, I know that everyone should be motivated by doing things that are part of their job, but the reality is we all have to do stuff we don’t like.  You need to know if this is in that category for someone because we all put less effort into the stuff we don’t like.    If i this is un-motivating for them then go back to the why. Go back to the importance and the criticality of the task and how it fits into your strategic plan and why you have chosen them to do it. Try to tap into the things that motivate them and give them a bigger, more meaningful reason to go over and above.

I can’t stress enough the value of being really clear about expectations upfront. It takes a huge amount of pain out of any type of performance or accountability conversation. It’s particularly important to take the time when it is a critical or an expensive thing or there have been stumbles in past. Take the time to lay out the ROAD with people so if you have to hold them accountable it’s a much easier conversation.

If you want more help with accountability conversation, shaping performance management processes for your organization, dealing with difficult clients, difficult people, difficult vendors or difficult situations in general then please feel free to get in touch with us. You can reach us at (709) 325-1025, email us at or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.


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