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How-to: Effectively set and communicate performance expectations

As the end of mid-year draws near, some companies might need to relook into their staff’s performance. In this exclusive, K. Thiveanathan, chief human resource officer, UTAC Group, shares his key takeaways on how to set performance expectations that will drive both the business and employee development. 

First things first, what are the key elements when it comes to setting performance expectations?

Individual performance expectations need to reflect business goals (or goals of superiors) to ensure there is a ‘line-of-sight’ between business goals and individual’s actions.

Other elements to consider are whether such expectations are within employee’s competency, past track records and available resources. These will enable setting expectations which are stretched beyond comfort zone but achievable.

How can you effectively communicate the expectations and goals?

Process rigour in communication is key to meeting expectations successfully. Additionally, planning ahead on the timelines to engage employees, and setting expectations with constructive and ongoing dialogues during such engagement will lead to greater success in employee meeting expectations.

That said, a clear process in timeline and communication process will remove the element of surprise and result in a productive engagement.

Usually HR is the custodian for process rigour, while supervisors observe the process and have the responsibilities to communicate, translate changing business / people dynamics for employees appreciation and continually create strong line-of-sight between changing business context and performance expectations.

When should these expectations be set? And do they differ depending on seniority of the professional?

Expectations are to be set usually at the beginning of performance cycle period. While beginning of the financial year is a common approach, this may differ in some circumstances (e.g. project based assignments).

Usually, front line sales team or production operators will have their expectations reset on monthly basis based on prevailing business needs. On the other hand, the board of directors may set a 3-year business expectations for a CEO.

In any case, communication of these expectations are usually translated into broad annual expectations – with close line-of-sight to longer term direction.

A clear process in timeline and communication process will remove the element of surprise and result in a productive engagement.

How do you determine the right timeframe to achieve each goal?

The guiding principles for time frame are usually business-driven. For example, it can be driven by financial / legal reporting commitments, customer demands, market competitive pressure, industry standards and, as well as, organisation’s people routines in managing performance and reward programs.

What are some of the immediate steps after expectations have been set?

An agreed periodic dialogue with employees will help minimise surprises in meeting expectations (i.e. process rigour).

This is done to assess progress, coach for performance improvement, review the need for changes in expectations and agree on next steps to stay on track towards achieving the expectations. Planned milestone achievements help in recognizing initial successes and provide opportunities for reinforcements / recognitions.  

Any tips that you personally use to ensure realistic expectations are set?

I usually start the process with the employee initiating the discussion with a draft proposal. In my experience, usually employees tend to set relatively high expectations for themselves. At times, some goals are beyond our anticipations, too.

Through ongoing interactions, coaching and feedback, we get to create a culture of trusting work environment. In a trusting culture, employees are willing to take risk with stretched goals. Such culture, too, foster creativity and innovations.

It is good to keep performance  / expectations discussions separate from reward, as reward is just one of the many outcomes of performance management process.

When employees set low expectations, it usually reflects low self-esteem or lack of guidance / coaching on the employee’s potentials or culture with elements of ‘threat’. These are great opportunities for people managers to work on and help such employees to see greater potentials by taking calculated risk.

If employee knew that I am there to support / coach them along the way and help them by removing hurdles in their path to meeting expectations; and not there to catch them doing wrong, we can unleash the employee’s real potential.

An experienced people manager will find ways to balance between a safe yet stretched performance expectations and overall business goals. With collaborative engagement and bottom-up process, employee will take full ownership of goals/KPI’s and confident of his / her’s goal deliveries.

It is good to keep performance  / expectations discussions separate from reward, as reward is just one of the many outcomes of performance management process.

Before we conclude, what are some of the common pitfalls HR can look out for?

Setting performance expectation is a dynamic process. Common pitfalls could include changing business landscape / company direction, supervisor’s / employee’s turn-over or constrains to availability of resources.

Business landscape can take unexpected downturns or upturns, including M&A activities that may change business directions. Similarly, external factors can influence available resources and time to meet such expectations.

Natural disasters may impact supply chain process that will impact output or entry of a new competitor may impact our targeted customer base and revenue projection. Additionally, HR should also look out for employees who may resign and the successor may have different expectations or not having required competencies to deliver on expectations.

Photo / 123RF

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