Managing Employee Performance – Setting Expectations

Setting Expectations

This blog is the second in a series focusing on the topic of “Managing Employee Performance”.  Managing employee performance in the workplace is comprised of all of the interactions and activities that take place between an employer and an employee, that result in the achievement of goals and expectations. The first blog emphasized the need for organizations to choose the most appropriate focus for performance management – the development of a relationship and work environment that enables the person to perform to the best of their abilities.

Many organizations struggle with performance management because the primary emphasis is on other purposes such as tracking performance on forms, or establishing compensation.   While these can be important benefits of managing performance, the most important objective is employee success.  Performance management is not an event; it is an ongoing process.

Four necessary core activities of being a great manager

Research by the Gallup Organization presented in the book “First Break All the Rules:  What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently”, identified four core activities that are a necessary part of being a great manager:

  • select a person;
  • set expectations;
  • motivate the person; and
  • develop the person. *

* “First Break All the Rules: Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman, Simon & Schuster 1999 Page 59.

If we assume an employer has hired the right employee with the appropriate set of competencies, the next step is to set expectations.  Fixing a hiring mistake should not be the primary focus of performance .  Performance begins with hiring the right person.  Assuming we have hired the right person, we then need to set expectations in order to help the employee succeed in meeting the employer’s expectations. This blog will outline the important elements in developing a solid set of employee expectations.

Clearly outlining employee expectations

Outlining employee expectations involves identifying the tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization.  These tasks and accountabilities are most often captured in a job description and should ideally answer the following questions:

  • What is expected and why it is important – an outline of duties and tasks
  • How to meet the expectations – key behaviours
  • Results/outcomes – how success is measured

When establishing job descriptions, organizations often make the mistake of placing too much emphasis on activities and not placing enough emphasis on results/outcomes or boundaries of control.  For example, a cashier in a retail store might be given the following duties and tasks as a list of job expectations:

  • quality customer service
  • processing customer orders through the point-of-sale cash system
  • providing refunds

These bullet points provide a good start, however they lack the level of detail and clarity required to help an employee really achieve success. For example, there is no indication of what decision-making authority the employee has with respect to providing refunds. If the employee encounters a situation where the customer wants a refund without a receipt for an amount that is less than $10, the employee should be given some guidance as to whether they can make that decision on their own or if they need approval from a supervisor or manager.

These guidelines also help define the quality of service the customer receives

This is an important question as it defines the quality of service that the customer will experience. If the employee has to go get approval and delays the customer in the store, this could be viewed as a negative experience and not in line with the expectations of the first bullet point – providing quality customer service.

Organizations need to be diligent in providing not only the duties and tasks of the job, they need to include other expectations such as decision-making authority and expected outcomes.

Aligning the three key points of interaction with employees

It is also important to ensure that there is alignment of expectations at three key points of interaction with employees.

  1. The expectations that are outlined in a job posting that was used during the hiring process should be exactly the same as;
  2. The expectations outlined in a job description that is used during the on-boarding and orientation and should be exactly the same as;
  3. The expectations used during ongoing performance discussions and annual performance review meetings.

Although this sounds like common sense, there is often a substantial disconnect between these three processes that can result in significant misunderstanding with respect to what the employee thinks that the employer expects from them.

This ambiguity with respect expectations does not help the employee succeed by meeting the employer’s expectations.

The next blog will continue the dialogue on building clear expectations by addressing the issues of how an organization’s goalsetting processes intersect with their permanent job descriptions and how they are used to help an employee succeed as part of an effective program for managing employee performance.

As always, I welcome your feedback. You can connect with me via email or telephone or leave a comment right here on the site.

Until next time,


David Town, CHRL, is a facilitator and coach of leadership and management principles that enable individuals and organizations to build greater leadership competency, resulting in higher performance and higher employee engagement. David has a particular focus on effectively managing conversations involving confrontation or conflict. As well, he provides insights and assessment strategies for integrating character competencies into leadership skills resulting in increased trust and reduced risk for leaders. David is a member of the International Coaching Federation and is President of Your Leadership Matters Inc.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *