Need to set performance expectations with staff?

Have you told yourself how you think they are doing?

Want some good options to discuss performance gaps?

red10‘s Paul Gaskell shares some gems – and even a flowchart – of guidance he’d have found invaluable back when he was managing staff.


As a manager in my past life, I’d have found the following guidance to be invaluable.

Now that I work with individuals who are learning about leading teams and projects, I continually find value in these ideas.

They are some of my most important learnings about managing people.  Even for the highly experienced manager, the ideas that are worth reviewing.

How do you engage with your staff?

I have 3 activities to set up the engagement with an employee about performance and expectations:

Establish real time conversations with the employee to review current projects, at least weekly. And, be prepared for the conversation.

Understand how the employee is motivated. People are typically most engaged when they can say these three things.

  • I am committed to quality work
  • There’s a mission that inspires me
  • I have the chance to use my strengths every day

Be clear about how you view the employee in this conversation – this will influence your conversation about performance and expectations:

  • I would nominate this person for an award
  • I always want this person on my team
  • This person is at risk for low performance
  • This person is ready take on a bigger role

How do I start a conversation about performance?

First, articulate to yourself what you expect of your employee – this could include what should get done as well as how it should get done. It’s often helpful to document so that you leave less room for assumptions on both sides (action verbs and measures are very helpful). Once you have this, you can check how it aligns with your employee’s perspective.

Review these expectations on a regular basis. How well are they aligned?

  1. If they are aligned and delivery is on track –positively acknowledge progress and look for learnings that will help you both with future activities. ‘It looks like we are on track to deliver X (and Y), what would you say you had learned from this activity so far, that could help us going forward?’.
  2. If you are not aligned on expectations, the earlier you can talk about alignment the better. I am expecting that X will be accomplished, what is your perspective?’ Agree expectations going forward – even if they are different from your original view. You should always consider that you may not have been clear enough about the expectations at the start.
  3. If they are aligned and you believe expectations are not being met, talk about it. ‘I was expecting to see X, but I am observing Y, can you help me understand what’s happening?’

Expectations are aligned but delivery is not

In the conversation where expectations are not being met – try to understand WHY and whether expectations can be met, can only be partially met, or cannot be met.

So, what prevented a successful outcome?

  • Ask if some external factors play a part – e.g. I am dependent on others to complete the task, I didn’t have the necessary information or resources to help. They may not believe they are set up to be successful.
    • ‘What dependencies/barriers are preventing you from delivering in this situation?’
    • ‘what can either of us do to manage those factors?’
  • If it’s not this, ask about other priorities. This activity may be less important to the employee than other activities they are involved in. What mission inspires them?
    • ‘To what extent is this activity a lesser priority for you (importance to me/relative importance)?’
    • ‘What could we do to manage your priorities or the priorities of others?’
  • Another possibility is that they don’t have the right capabilities to complete the activity. It may require a different level of skill than the employee has previously exhibited. It may require different strengths – e.g. execution skills when this employee is strong in strategic or creative activities:
    • ‘How well do you think this activity leverages your strengths and skills?’
    • What can we do to increase skill levels and/or apply strengths?’
  • At the end of this conversation, you should understand what prevented expectations from being met, and what you can expect in the future:
    • Determine the level of delivery you are OK with (e.g. 50%, 75%).
    • Consider how you view this employee’s overall performance.
    • Decide if you are OK to move forward with the reset expectations

If you’d like to engage further on managing performance levels feel free to contact me: