First, set great expectations
It begins with setting expectations.
In our ongoing discussion on the development of great managers, we touched on the importance of likability as being a key strength in a manager’s ability to cause their direct reports to willingly go along with their thoughts, ideas and suggestions.
And while we agreed that management is not a popularity contest, we all tend to be more open, responsive and willing to get along with, and do as requested by, people we like and respect.
What Are Your Expectations?
Today I would like to introduce another factor that I believe to be an essential tool for any manager who truly aspires to be best in class.
In my day-job as a Habits Coach, I am frequently contacted by managers in companies where I have done previous work and asked to coach an employee who they deem to be underperforming, and yet still believe to be worth investing in.
I always begin by asking the same question: “How do you determine whether or not this person is doing a great job?” Or, to phrase my question a little differently, “What expectations do you have of this person that, if met, would cause you to value them as a top producing performer?”
I listen very carefully to their answer and, to the best of my ability, write down every word that is used to describe the expectations this manager has of their direct report.
I then ask for permission to meet with the employee as I have an extremely important question for them. “How do you determine whether you are doing a great job?”
Again, I make every effort to capture every word used by the person to describe what their doing a great job would look like.
How Do The Two Perspectives Compare?
There is, in fact, method to my madness.
When I place the responses from both the manager and employee side-by-side I look to see to what extent do they match.
Years of doing this type of work have taught me that unless the two answers line up exactly, that poor and embattled employee has no chance of ever doing a great job – at least not as seen through the eyes of their manager.
You see, regardless of how well the employee feels they are performing – and let’s even assume they are performing at optimal level – what they are doing in terms of deliverables is not matching the expectations of their boss. This means until their expectations and their boss’s expectations of what great performance looks like become mirror images of each other, that employee will always be viewed as errant.
The number one cause of conflict is when expectations are not being met. Great managers understand this and use well articulated, and negotiated, expectations to manage and evaluate the performance of each direct report.
I have encouraged every manager I’ve worked with to meet each of their reports and use this time to set very clear, unequivocal and, most importantly, achievable expectations.
This is not a quick discussion, this is a lengthy and detailed planning session. The employee needs to be an active participant in this discussion and the truly great managers encourage and accept input from the employee during the discussion.
Completing this exercise places both manager and direct report on the same page. Evaluating performance now becomes a simplified process of merely comparing results to expectations.
Make the Process a Habit
Yes, of course, over time things change and flexibility needs to be a key part of the process. Regular reviews of progress allow for modifications to expectations and of the easiest ways of ensuring the success of all parties.
I have taught this process to many managers over the years. Some, as is their right, have chosen to continue doing as they always have. Those who have adopted, and stayed with this as a nonnegotiable standard of how they manage their staff, have all found their jobs to be easier, less stressful and, as one pointed out to me, provides “more time for golf.”
Years of experience in working in many organizations across a wide cross-section of industries and watching leaders optimize their employee”s levels of capability have taught me that setting agreed-upon expectations and then holding all parties to their end of the bargain is, without doubt, the easiest, least time-consuming and most productive method of management.
It almost sounds too easy to be true, yet it is.
Next week we will chat even more about additional traits of great managers.
Be sure to join us then.
Till we read again.