Among the top complaints I’ve heard from various clients is a familiar refrain about some of their team members: ‘They’re just not delivering as expected.’
And it comes in many guises:
The ‘Promising Interviewee, Disappointing Employee’ one;
The ‘Missed Deadline for Important Meetings’ scenario;
The ‘They Should Know Where to Find Information’ assumption;
And the classic …… ‘They Should Just Know’ expectation.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the harsh truth often points in a different direction: it’s not solely on them; it’s also about you, the leader.
Communication Is Everything When It Comes To Performance Expectations
In my experience, upon probing how expectations were set, it becomes clear that 9 times out of 10, clear direction from them on what is actually required has been lacking, if not entirely absent.
I recall a manager who bluntly stated, ‘I pay them to know what to do!’. And whilst it’ might seem frustrating, this mindset overlooks a crucial aspect: payment doesn’t guarantee understanding or alignment of expectations.
The Disconnect Between Said and Understood
Fair enough you might say. You pay a wage and you expect certain standards to be delivered. But what you believe you’ve communicated, clearly might not be how your team perceives it. Effective communication involves not just stating expectations but also ensuring they are understood.
You might think that what you said had been understood by all, but how did you summarise and play it back? Did you involve them in how they might deliver what was being asked? Did you check to see that they understood what you had asked? And, crucially, did you do this in the way in which your team work best? Because each team member is likely to hear different things. What is understood by one team member, may not be understood in the same way as another as we all learn differently. Which is why you should also write things down and follow up wherever possible. Your role here is as a coach, helping them to see how they can achieve the goal in hand, providing the support (and environment) so that they can deliver with aplomb and inspiring them to want to do it.
Leaders often fall into the trap of assuming that their team members will connect the dots on their own. This gap between assumption and reality is where underperformance begins. To bridge this gap, leaders need to practice active listening, understanding the unique perspectives and challenges faced by each team member
So the person you hired that isn’t working out – could a more thorough assessment have predicted the challenges? Reflect on your briefing methods. Were there gaps in how you communicated timelines or deliverables? Self-reflection on your communication style can unveil improvements for both your team’s performance and your leadership.
There’s No One Single Way To Get Great Performance Every Time
…But there are some simple steps you can take to get your message across and make the dark art of getting people to perform and behind you a darn sight clearer:
- Set Expectations From The Outset: From up to date job descriptions to quality time during the interview process and discussing what success in the role looks like. This stage is critical.
- Support Them When They Do Join: Don’t just leave it to chance that they will ‘pick it up’. Spend time with your new recruit on a regular basis outlining what you expect from them and when. Like to be updated on a weekly basis on how the product is progressing? Tell them. Show them. Share with them how you do it. Try it all.
- Focus On WIIFT (What’s In It For Them): For you it’s probably very clear what you get out of their high performance, but What’s In It For Them? Learn what motivates them and push those buttons to get the most out of your team.
- Return The Favour: Give them feedback on how they are doing. Do it immediately and make it real. A well-timed comment along the lines of “That campaign you ran totally hit the mark in terms of coverage but the signups we were after didn’t materialise. Let’s analyse it together and see how we can do it differently next time” is far more supportive and constructive than leaving it a few months to the end of the probation to tell them they didn’t get the results you were after. You’ll have missed valuable time for them to improve and will look as though you were too incompetent to raise it beforehand.
- Keep Talking: Few people like to work in a vacuum, so keep the conversation flowing. It builds relationships. Makes giving feedback (good and bad) much easier. And makes people feel involved.
Despite spending much of my adult life coaching on the subject, I’m not immune from it either.
There’s been many times over the years when I found myself ‘tutting’ in my head when a piece of work failed to materialise or arrived half finished. At that point I have to check myself and think about what exactly I said/ did/ wrote when I communicated what I wanted. Almost every single time I realised that I hadn’t been clear about the importance of what I’ve asked for, why I’ve asked for something and what exactly I’ve needed.
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