Part 2…What should my people be answerable for?

by Sam on May 31, 2011

Last week you saw how essential it was for expectations–how you expect employees to perform–to overlay your job descriptions–what you expect employees to do. You were also encouraged to augment the list of 15 classic employee performance requirements that we presented there with several of your own.

Now for suggestions that will cause your final list to result in heightened accountability in the people you lead.

You put teeth into your expectations when you…

1. Write them as requirements for action, not as statements of beliefs or as personal qualities of jobholders. This means they will typically be full sentences beginning with an active verb.

2. Make them specific; leave no room for interpretation or guessing. They must mean the same thing to all employees that they mean to you. Give examples, if necessary.

3. Remove as many negative statements as possible. For example it is better to state, “Come to meetings on time” than, “Avoid arriving late at meetings.”

4. If you have a set of core values in your company, use those values as the starting point. Your expectations will be arrayed along these values as elaborations of them. Each one-word value (e.g., integrity) could have up to a dozen expectations describing the specific behavior it inspires.

5. Validate your list with your boss and your peers—your boss for approval and your peers for coordination and out of courtesy.

6. For the greatest impact communicate them at the beginning of employment, better yet during the job interview. (“If we hire you, this is the behavior we will hold you accountable to.”)

7. Even if you fail to state your expectations early on, it’s never too late; however, you’ll want to insert them into an existing relationship sensitively and thoughtfully with help from the remaining prescriptions.

8. Consider whether your particular team culture best supports a group session where you communicate with the entire team or individual meetings where you explain these necessary behaviors privately.

9. Apologize for not having been fair enough to put these expectations, which have always been on your heart, on paper until now.

10. Show your team how the expectations connect to the mission, vision, and values they already work under.

11. Demonstrate whatever self-interest there may be for team members to fulfill your expectations. Will their work lives be less painful? Will positive consequences accrue to them?

12. Alternatively, don’t write the expectations. Instead ask your team, your assistant, or others to write the expectations you should have of them. As a result they won’t feel put upon by you, the resulting expectations may prove to be even more exacting than yours, and they’ll have more ownership of them and more accountability to meet them.

13. In any relationship, expectations never go only in one direction. Ask your team what their needs are of you. The resulting expectation exchange might prove to be the healthiest two-way communication you have ever experienced as a leader.

Breakthrough! Finally, consider using the “mutual performance contract” resulting from #13 as a foundation for reciprocal feedback. Both leader and follower can use their expectations of the other as the basis for three requests for positive behavior that would cause both sets of expectations to be met even more fully than they are right now.

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