Clear performance expectations are the foundation for setting team members up to succeed.  It also often seems to be the case that when an employee is perceived to be underperforming there is a lack of shared understanding of what good or bad performance looks like.  This post provides a set of five questions for managers to work through with their people to assess just how clear and shared the performance expectations are and to resolve any ambiguity before it leads to problems. 

Both the manager and team member should come to the discussion prepared with a few brief notes for each question (leave behind position descriptions etc and focus on the conversation).  To be most effective, for each question the team member should first provide their views about their role and then the manager should respond by comparing and contrasting their expectations for the role.  Areas of alignment and differences will quickly become apparent and can be discussed and resolved as the conversation progresses.

Below we use a fast food restaurant scenario to illustrate use of the questions.

Q1.  The top three focus areas of our organisation at the moment are ... This should be kept high level and should help bring some context to the discussion, as every role should be contributing to executing the organisation’s strategy. 

Example:  1. Reducing operating expenses.  2. Increasing sales of high margin items.  3. Expanding aggressively in to emerging markets.

Q2. The purpose of my role is to .... People should be able to explain in one sentence why their job exists.  Ask your team member what the connection is between their job’s purpose and the organisation focus areas.

Example:  The purpose of my job (as restaurant manager) is to provide restaurant leadership that drives its sustainable growth and profitability.

Q3.  The top four aspects that I am accountable for are ...  We can often over think things when discussing accountabilities, but they should be clear and straight forward.

Example:  1. Meeting profit targets.  2. Ensuring the health and safety of staff and customers.  3. Maximising customer satisfaction.  4. Leading and developing a large team of employees.

Q4.  Successful delivery against accountability (1, 2, 3, 4) is defined as .... The key here is to be sure that both the manager and team member have the same concept of how they will know when the team member has succeeded in delivering on the accountability.  This may also include reference to behaviours which drive the organisation's values.  To make this step even more effective, discuss and agree what 'meeting', 'outperforming' or 'underperforming' against each accountability looks like.  These become the team member's performance objcectives or key performance indicators.

Example:  The restaurant manager will have succeeded in maximising customer satisfaction when their customer satisfaction score results are at least 80% as measured by the monthly customer survey (underperforming would be 75% or less and outperforming would be 85% or more).

Q5. The way in which I will achieve success for area of accountability (1, 2, 3, 4) is ... Having a plan for how the accountabilities/objectives will be delivered upon is an important component of setting clear expectations.  This is where the role of the manager in coaching and supporting a team member is so critical.  Make sure the employee has their own clear and achievable plan for delivering what is expected.  Review progress regularly. Have them adjust the approach if it’s not working.

Example:  The restaurant manager will meet the customer satisfaction score targets by:

  • Thoroughly training all new staff in customer service techniques before they serve customers;
  • Amending recruitment practices to ensure that customer service skills and attitudes have a greater weighting in the hiring decision; and
  • Observing all customer service employees at least once a fortnight and providing feedback and coaching in relation to their customer service performance.

Team members need clear performance expectations in order to drive both individual and team success.  It takes time, effort and discussion between a manager and the team member to achieve this.  It may take one discussion, it may take several. The process of engaging the team member in the discussion and having them contribute to defining the expectations helps ensure that they have ownership of and commitment to performing.

Coming out of the discussion of the five questions you should have all the information that you need for a clear, concise and relevant position description and performance objectives.  More importantly, your team member will know what’s expected of them and why, how their efforts link to the business strategy, and they will have a plan in place for succeeding. 

A manager achieves success through their people so how can you afford not to invest the time in setting clear expectations and planning for high performance with your people?