Managing Expectations – Retaining Top Performers

In part six of our series from Daniel Short’s original article, Retaining Top Performers, we are focusing on Managing Expectations, and the correlation between clarity of goals, driven performance and results.

According to Rigoni & Nelson (Gallup, 2016) very few employees currently describe themselves as engaged, and only half strongly agree they know what is expected of them at work. Research suggests that setting clear expectations may be the most fundamental element of effective employee engagement, and to perform at the highest level, employees must first understand exactly what is anticipated of them.

From the start of commencing a job role the desired objectives and outcomes are set out (job description, specific duties etc), and the individual is given a clear set of values, expectations and processes to align to. However, once an employee is settled into their role, traditionally the only time given to discuss their accomplishments, receive feedback on progress, and build a future goal plan is the yearly or bi-yearly appraisal. With high performers, and the current emerging workforce, this time frame can be too infrequent. As touched upon in article three, Training & Development, clear, consistent feedback and measured process has been vital, especially up until the emergence of new technology, in ensuring a high level of performance is sustained. A 2014 study conducted by SAP and Oxford Economics showed half of all high performers researched (across 27 different countries) expected at least a monthly sit down with their managers to discuss performance and avenues for progression, whilst only 53% of these felt their managers delivered on their expectations (Harvard Business Review). More recently, Hall (2017) found that 70% of employees say their managers do not provide clear goals and directions (6 Tips To Create Agile Performance Management In Your Business).

Times are changing fast. ‘Agile Performance Management’ is a relatively new term that has begun to encompass a more modern approach with regards to managing expectations, which may finally put an end to appraisals, performance management and personal development models. This has largely come about due to the speed and rate technology is evolving in the workplace, and the office setting becoming a more collaborative, social and fast paced environment. Millennials, and the younger generation of employees emerging into today’s workforce, demand greater flexibility, less hierarchical relationships and a faster line of communication with managers as many processes become more streamlined and responsive. In place of the annual and bi-annual appraisals, frequent feedback, regular conversations and casual check-ins are now becoming the natural progressive mechanisms for personal growth (Hall). Instead of delivery against objectives, coaching conversations and a focus on growth and development are emphasised.

However even with these developing changes in employer/employee relationships, there is still a fundamental tenet that expectations should be clear, achievable and regularly monitored in order to maintain the most successful outcomes. According to Eikenberry (Setting Clearer Performance Expectations) there are several criteria that should be observed to ensure expectations have a strong chance of being met successfully:

Alignment – Firstly, are the goals and objectives strongly aligned to the organisation and company ethos? If there is a clear rationale for setting the objectives and the employee understands the motivation behind them this will help to create a solid foundation from which to proceed. Further, the modern workforce are more geared towards social responsibility, therefore ensuring there is a strong ethical branding and aligning goals with this will help to align joint goals.

Jointly Developed – Secondly, have the goals and objectives been developed together with both employee and employer? If everyone has been instrumental in developing the goals and all viewpoints and ideas considered, there is a higher chance they will succeed.

Agreed Outcomes – Thirdly, is everyone in agreement with the goals, processes and desired results? If there is an agreed precept, the likelihood of sustained commitment to reaching the goals and outcomes becomes higher.

Once the goals and outcomes have been agreed, there should be a joint collaboration towards achieving them. Exponential Training believes an organisation’s success is not just dependent upon having the right strategy and resources, it is also reliant upon the ability of its management to harness, direct and consistently support teams and individuals to engage in delivering the organisation’s mission and objectives (The Role of the Manager in Performance Management).

To ensure the employee is empowered to succeed, a transparent, individually tailored approach is needed, with continual support to help them achieve their goals. We could ask:

Is the individual frequently supported by management to effectively improve performance, reach further and achieve the agreed outcomes? Are opportunities being given to allow the development of new processes that result in achieving the expected outcomes?

Gallup fully concurs with Eikenberry’s criteria for managing expectations successfully, and further concludes that once they have been articulated clearly, expectation should also be strongly individualised towards each employee’s unique strengths. We could further ask: is the individual continually supported and encouraged to use their unique strengths, skills and motivations to achieve the expected outcomes?

As mentioned in Training And Development (part three of the series) taking advantage of an employee’s pre-existing strengths and qualities produces much better results in managing expectations and succeeding overall than using resources to develop new skills and correcting perceived weaknesses. Further, employees, Gallup highlights, do not want to spend most of their time on tasks they lack interest or proficiency in. According to the study, when managers encourage individuals to better understand their natural strengths and abilities and then position them to use those talents more at work, employee performance and engagement both’ skyrocket’.

Armed with the traditional tools of clear, concise aims and strategy, plus the more modern approach of frequent support and collaborated effort, the expectations of both employee and employer are not only likely to be met, but often exceeded, as the individual is wholly aligned to the organisations objectives and fully supported in achieving their goals.

Greenacre Recruitment is a Social Housing Consultancy, passionate about driving change, finding solutions for, and challenging Leadership issues within the public sector. You can follow Greenacre on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook to engage on topics of leadership, change and the public sector industry news.

Alma Sheren is Head of Marketing and Communications for Greenacre Recruitment, and owner of Virtual Office Solutions, a remote business support service, also based in Hertfordshire. You can follow VOS on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.