Setting Clear Expectations – A Key to Better Employee Engagement

Management training shows how to establish, write and communicate clear job performance expectations effectively and create a solid basis for appraisal and performance management efforts.
Setting performance expectations is absolutely one of the most difficult jobs for most managers. Why? Because few managers or supervisors ever receive this type of in-depth training.
A mutual understanding of what managers expect from employees is essential for improved performance, employee success, and good employee relations overall. Not to mention worker retention, attendance and “presenteeism”.
Without clear job expectations, employees can:
  •  Waste effort due to a lack of priorities
  •  Waste time with unnecessary work
  •  Endure increased stress due to uncertainty
With clear job expectations, employees can:
  • Understand what is important and what they should be doing
  • Understand why they are doing their work
  • Know how they are doing and when to ask for support
  • Recognize where performance improvement can occur


Too often performance problems revolve around this question and this answer:
“Why isn’t my employee doing what needs to do be done?”

“But, I thought I was doing a good job.”
Poorly defined performance expectations leave the employee questioning how to achieve job performance goals and leaving them no way to track their efforts to meet job expectations. The result is both employees and their managers becoming frustrated.  The manager is frustrated because the employee is not doing the things that need to be done.  The employee is frustrated because they think they are doing the best they can and the boss is still not satisfied with the work they are doing.
When results are easy to measure (for example: parts per hour or sales volume per month), defining expectations seems fairly straightforward.  But what about adding in error rates, new customers, profit margins on sales, or other issues?  All of a sudden, it gets more complicated.
Now, add in the more subjective, but extremely important, performance criteria such as interpersonal skills, teamwork, quality customer service, and others.  How can managers effectively communicate these expectations? If managers cannot effectively communicate all job expectations, they cannot expect the employee to meet those expectations.
HOW to Set Employee Expectations
As much as an employee needs a job description to know what their role is, they might need expectations of achievement to sharpen their focus. Although every company will have its own desired level of performance from employees, getting the best work out of employees requires knowledge of each employee’s strengths and the proper techniques to motivate them. Employees usually start a job wanting to do well; managers should work with them to help them to bring their enthusiasm to work every day.
  • Set job-specific goals tailored to the position and employee. A list of job duties is a starting point to develop a series of targets for employees to meet. Especially in long-standing positions where the role of the employee is clear, the company will know what achievement levels are best for the company. These levels might have to be adjusted, however, to match the skill set and experience of the person in the position.
  • Allow new employees time to get settled in the position. It’s an unfortunate reality that high expectations placed on star hires don’t always pan out; giving new staff time to ease into the position and mentoring from a senior co-worker will avoid disappointment. Set early expectations to be achievable; instead of a long list of sales or productivity targets, be realistic about what’s possible and ask your staff to meet only a few key objectives during the first three months. Remember new hires are unlikely to ask a lot of questions until they feel comfortable in their jobs.
  • Make expectations part of an ongoing conversation. Meeting with employees on a regular basis, once a month at least, to discuss goals and progress will help employees understand t the employer’s expectations. Regular meetings help managers assess the workload of each employee and can adjust it if necessary to help employees meet the company’s goals. Learning what interests and engages employees can help managers to distribute work in a way that promotes enthusiasm for completing tasks. Expressing confidence in each employee’s ability and reinforcing past achievement is key to maintaining employee motivation.
  • Develop short and long term goals. Specific targets for employees are easier to meet than vague platitudes about stronger sales or greater productivity. Remember that employees work daily in their jobs and therefore might have a better idea of what goals are realistic and achievable. Maintaining an open dialogue about workload is a good way to assess employee capability and to find targets they can meet. Specific targets allow for clear tracking of employee performance.
  • Exhibit role model behavior when it comes to performance. Set goals for your own performance and share them as much as possible with employees. This demonstrates you are not simply managing in a “top-down” fashion; you expect as much from your own work as from your workforce.