Setting proper and challenging expectations is absolutely a part of promoting performance on your team. However, what you wouldn’t know from the manager’s comment, is that he had invested several years in selecting and developing his team members and working hard to establish mutual trust built on a culture of accountability.
Setting lofty expectations without doing the heavy lifting of forming an effective working environment is a hollow exercise in something ranging between comedy and futility.
5 ideas to Help Bring Great Expectations to Life on Your Team:
1. Accountability must be in attendance for expectations to take root. As the team leader, you own the responsibility for establishing and ensuring a culture of accountability. Be careful to avoid setting double-standards where some members are held accountable and others have a perpetual hall-pass that lets them slide out of the way on performance and projects.
2. Remember Deming’s advice: “Strike out fear.” Fear is the single most destructive force in the workplace and too often, managers attempt to impose accountability by using fear as a lever. Accountability built at the end of a metaphorical gun-barrel is compliance. You want to move beyond compliance to a point where people are excited about pushing beyond base level expectations towards something new, innovative, improved etc. Fear of job loss and all of its’ attendant consequences is the biggest issue for most people. Don’t be THAT manager who uses this very powerful emotion to drive performance.
3. Expectation setting is a full-contact activity. Jointly developing S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals is a fine approach to setting performance expectations. Both parties have to believe in the goals and both have a stake in constructing them.
4. Don’t contradict yourself by encouraging experimentation and then jumping on people for failure. Too many team leaders talk about encouraging experimentation and then jump people for failures. Most experiments fail…and the first time you verbally assault someone or make them feel like failure is a stigma, is the last time you’ll find them extending themselves in pursuit of a project. While repeated or chronic performance failures are an issue, a setback in pursuit of doing something new or innovative or striving for a new level of performance is just a lesson learned on the road to success.
5. Feedback is the most powerful performance enhancer in your tool-chest. Consistent performance feedback reinforces the behaviors that work in support of high expectations and helps identify the behaviors that detract from this pursuit. Give behavioral, business focused and specific positive and constructive feedback early and often.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Early career and first-time leaders often struggle with the pursuit of high performance on their teams. You own the heavy lifting of building a working environment that promotes aggressive pursuit of challenging goals. Get this right and your team members will thank you and your manager will have ample evidence to justify your next promotion. Set your sights high and support people who strive to meet and exceed those expectations.
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.