Managing Employee Performance – Setting Expectations Part 2


This blog is the third 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 previous blog offered insights into how to set expectations.  Context, clarity and degrees of freedom are key elements in the development of clear expectations.   This blog will continue the topic of how to set expectations with a review of goal-setting.

It is commonplace for organizations to use the goal-setting process as a means to motivate employees toward the achievement of organizational objectives. However, the process of setting goals must be managed effectively in order for it to be valuable.  In the study of organizational behavior theory on goal-setting, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the motivational value of goal-setting depends on two things:  a) whether the employer has set a goal that is realistically achievable; and b) whether the employee receives feedback with respect to their progress in achieving the goal.  I will address part b) in a future blog on creating a motivating environment.


A widely used acronym for setting goals is “SMART”. In order to make expectations clear, the goal should be:

  • Specific – clear articulation of expectations
  • Measurable – a means to assess achievement of the goals
  • Achievable – challenging but not so difficult that they can’t be achieved
  • Relevant – contributes to the achievement of a department/organisational goal
  • Time-framed – there is a clear date of completion (milestones can help as well)

An example of a goal that is not SMART is:  “Let’s reduce costs”.  Instead, this can be improved as follows:  “Let’s examine the top twelve areas of spending in the operations budget for our departments over the next three months with the goal of reducing year-over-year spending by 5% so that we can meet the organizations objective of re-directing spending to an increased investment in research and development”.

The “A” in SMART stands for Achievable. 

Organizations risk undermining the motivation of their employees if the goals they set for employees are not achievable. They also risk other forms of bad behaviour.  Stephen Covey, a noted author on the topic of principled leadership, was quoted as saying “There’s strong data that, within companies, the No. 1 reason for ethical violations is the pressure to meet expectations, sometimes unrealistic expectations.”  

So, how does an organization ensure that the goals they set for employees are achievable?  I believe that there are two important strategies that organizations should employ in order to develop goals that are achievable.

  1. Include employees in the goal-setting process

The first strategy is to ensure that employees are involved in the goal-setting process. Management can start with macro goals and a plan of action for each department, however they must involve the employees in order to get the employee’s commitment to the goal and to identify any barriers to the achievement of the goals that management may not be fully aware of. Also, having the employee participate in the goal-setting process will give them a much stronger sense of accountability for the goals because they help develop them.

  1. Integrate a review of the job duties into the goal-setting process

The second strategy needed for developing achievable goals is to integrate a review of the job duties into the goal-setting process.   Organizations should review the expectations outlined in a job description at the same time as a review of time-framed goals.  When it comes to thinking about managing employee performance and expectations, the only real difference between a job description and a set of goals is the timeframe. A job description typically has an indefinite time frame.  The expectations outlined in the job description remain in place until there is a significant shift in organizational structure. The expectations outlined in a goal-setting process typically have a start date and an end date. However, they take time to accomplish and should not be seen as simply an add-on to the employee’s regular job.

There should be an estimate of the time required to complete the goals outlined in the goal-setting process and there should be an acknowledgment of how the time required to achieve the goals will be integrated with the time required to achieve the ongoing expectations of the job.  Failure to do this can lead to issues such as employee burnout or employees who pursue achievement of short-term goals at the expense of important ongoing job expectations.

In summary, the first step in effectively managing employee performance is the process of setting expectations – both the ongoing job accountabilities as well as the time-framed goals.

The next few blogs will offer insights on the importance of creating a motivating environment in order 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.

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