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Making Performance Expectations Clear
by Marnie Green

If you are a supervisor, you have likely faced this common dilemma. You ask an employee to complete a task that seems simple to you. And, what you get is not what you expected. For whatever reason, the employee did not complete the job to your standards. Usually, this frustrating experience happens when you have not made your expectations clear. You expected one thing and got something else. Here are six things that can help make your expectations clear the first time.

Success Criteria- Before you turn the employee loose on the task, say this to the employee: "This project/task/job will be successful if (fill in the blank)." By articulating this one idea, you are able to clarify the end results you envision, which increases the likelihood that the employee will see the same end result.

Completion Date- This might sound obvious, but we often forget to share with the employee our expectation for when the job should be done. If you expect the task will be done by Friday or by 5:00 or by the end of the year, tell them.

Interim Progress or Final Reports- Just like with the completion date, if you expect them to check in with you at intervals throughout the task, request that up front. Sometimes, asking the employee to check in with you periodically can ensure that the employee doesn't go too far down the wrong path.

Level of Authority- Be clear about how far the employee can go in terms of decision-making. This will avoid surprises later on. There are four levels of authority to consider:

1. Employee gathers the information and the supervisor makes the final decision or carries out the task alone.

2. Employee gathers the information, makes a recommendation, and the supervisor makes the final decision or carries out the task alone.

3. Employee gathers the information, makes a recommendation, and with the supervisor's approval, carries out the task.

4. Employee gathers the information, makes the decision, and carries out the task himself or herself, without supervisory guidance or approval.

Areas of Risk or Visibility- As a supervisor, your job is to give the employee all the information they need to do the job as expected. Sometimes that means giving them a "heads up" as to any areas of potential problem or political sensitivities involved in the job. For example, you might warn them that the project is a high priority for the CEO and the outcome will be carefully scrutinized. Or, if the project is likely to meet resistance by others, the employee should be made aware of these potential challenges. You can help the employee find solutions to these issues before they arise, so that they have a greater likelihood of success.

We never expect to be misunderstood. However, when giving instructions, it's easy to be unclear about our expectations. These guidelines will help you to be more clear and will help you help your employees succeed.

Marnie E. Green is Principal Consultant of the Arizona-based Management Education Group, Inc. She is the author of Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day to Day Employee Performance (Pearson/Prentice Hall). Green is a speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations develop leaders today for the workforce of tomorrow. Contact Green at

Marnie Green may be contacted at


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