According to recent Gallup research study, leaders are still failing to set clear expectations with their employees.  Only half of the employees surveyed could strongly agree with the statement, “I know what is expected of me at work.”

Establishing clear expectations is a crucial component of creating a winning company.
Clear expectations:

  • Drives higher levels of employee engagement – benefits include increased productivity and profitability.
  • Attracts and retains top talent – over time the percentage of high performers in the company increases, while the non-performers become less comfortable and migrate away.
  • Makes performance discussions easier for managers – setting definitions of success for each role  takes away subjectivity and the risk of biased assessments, while ensuring employees are being treated fairly.
  • Are crucial for creating a culture of high accountability throughout the organization.

When setting expectations, leaders need to define the “what”, not the “how”. Employees desire autonomy over “how” they do their work.  In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,  Dan Pink describes the link between motivation and autonomy. Autonomy in a work situation means employees have some freedom in how they achieve the desired results, giving them the discretion to customize their approach and add creativity.Finding ways for employees to define their own “how” can be a strong motivator.

Of course too much creativity can be dangerous.  It would be negligent to encourage employees to ignore best-practices, established processes and proven methods (not to mention regulatory requirements for how certain jobs are performed).

When setting expectations, leaders need to find a balance between the “what” and the “how”. For leaders to do this, they must: 

  • Take performance management seriously –  have role scorecards for all roles in the organization, and establish clear, objective measures of success.  These are what John Spence calls binary goals.

    while at the same time …
  • Encourage employees to customize their approaches and be creative within established boundaries.  Use helpful questions like:
    • What proven methods can we learn from or replicate?
    • How will the new approach keep us onside with regulators and other stakeholders?
    • How will any new approach be consistent with our core values, purpose and long term vision?

Leadership is the art of mobilizing others towards a shared and desired goal or outcome.  Leveraging clear expectations and autonomy are useful mechanisms in this equation on the path to higher performance.

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Article by Tim O’Connor