I was recently chatting with a long term friend and client who was lamenting about his ongoing struggle with an employee who was routinely underperforming and in whom my friend had invested heavily in the hope of “turning him around.”
And nothing seemed to be working.
And could I help?
So I did what I always do when presented with this situation. I asked him this question. “How do you know when he is doing a good job?”
“What do you mean?” he replied giving me the standard response to that question.
“By what means do you measure the quality of his performance?”
He gave me the look I have come to expect whenever I ask this question of a manager who is struggling with a so called errant employee.
After he was able to stammer out some sort of answer I asked if I could meet with the employee as I had a question for him.
I wanted to ask him how he would know if he was doing a good job.
I was curious to see if his answer would match that of his boss.
If he would use all or most of the same words as his boss.
And I was pretty sure he wouldn’t.
They almost never do.
And very often the simple fact that these two answers do not match represents the entire problem in a nutshell.
You see, what’s happening is this; day by day these two people, the employee and his direct report, are going about their daily business with two separate, different, and frequently conflicting, expectations of what doing a good job looks like.
And when that happens, the poor, hapless employee never has a chance of being viewed in anything other than a poor light by his boss.
And so our employee goes home at the end of the day firmly believing that he is delivering excellent results in the eyes of his boss as all of his expectations about what constitutes doing a good job are indeed being met.
His boss on the other hand, goes home at the end of each day, firmly convinced that this employee is errant in his duties and is a poor performer because this person is not meeting or exceeding the expectations against which his daily deliverables are being measured.
And this exact scenario is being played out day after day after day in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of workplaces around the world.
Not for a moment am I suggesting that all underperformance in the workplace can be attributed to a misalignment of expectations between managers and staff. What I am saying though, is that an absolute certain way of ensuring conflict will occur is when clearly defined expectations are not communicated in a manner that ensures complete and absolute clarity of understanding on all sides.
It is also extremely helpful in avoiding conflict if all sides agree with, and commit to, these stated expectations.
It is probably not a statement of fact to proclaim that all conflict in the world is the result of expectations not being met. It is, however, very close to a statement of fact to proclaim that when expectations are not met, conflict frequently becomes a very real result.
It never fails to astound me how, when asked the exact same question I asked of my friend and colleague above, managers are unable to define their expectations of workplace performance by each of their employees and yet that very same performance and, consequently, the careers of those employees, will be determined by those judgments that are founded on unclear and often subjective expectations that have never been clearly articulated to those folks.
A question each of us would benefit mightily by asking ourselves is; how often we have judged people by what they have or have not done based on what we believe they “should” have done or not done because even if they did not know what we believed they “should” have done, they “should” have known what we expected them to do?
Or perhaps an even more poignant question to ask ourselves is how we felt when we were judged on our failure to meet the expectations of others even when we had no foreknowledge of those expectations?
Go ahead, ask yourself those questions.
I expect you to do this right now.
Till we read again.
P.S. My book, Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours is continuing to sell very well. You can read a complimentary chapter simply by choosing to click here. If you want to order your very own copy please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by ordering direct from Self Connection.