The start of the year is the perfect time to reset and refresh performance expectations.
Outstanding performance starts with clear performance expectations—a shared understanding of what success looks like. But what do you do when a critical player on your team is doing “okay,” but not great?
Or, perhaps you’ve relaxed your performance expectations because of all the stress and strain of this crazy year, but now the lower bar has become the new normal.
The new year is the perfect time to reset and refresh performance expectations.
“But they SHOULD know better!”
We’ve heard this sentiment from so many managers. They’ve hired an experienced player for a pivotal role. They’re frustrated because “They SHOULD’NT have to explain their job to them.”
We get it. Maybe you shouldn’t have to. But, if you’re not getting the results you need, and, you haven’t made your expectations perfectly clear, it’s unlikely much will change.
Start Here to Reset Performance Expectations
1. Have them describe their vision of success.
An easy way to begin the conversation is to start with their vision for the role. Be sure you’re talking about more than numbers. Also, take the conversation a level deeper to talk about behaviors.
For example, success might look like achieving quota, gaining market share, or completing a major project. Be sure you’re aligned there. Ask them to share their MIT strategic priorities. And then, probe to understand the initiatives and behaviors they think are necessary to make that happen.
The disconnect around performance expectations often comes at the behavioral level.
For example, they KNOW they need to achieve quota. But they might not understand your expectation to spend 50% of their time riding along with their sales team helping them establish deeper, strategic relationships with key decision-makers.
- What are your most important strategic priorities for the fourth quarter (or, if they’ve been through our leadership programs, you can ask “What’s your MIT?”)
- How are you planning to organize your week? What important activities are most critical to your success? How will you ensure you will have time for those?
- What strategic relationships do you need to invest in to really “up your game” in the new year?
- (And if they’re a people manager) Let’s talk about your team. What does success look like for _________ (yes, go role by role). What support do they need to be successful?
2. Share your observations.
Once you hear their vision, you’ll have a good sense of if they get it. If performance expectations (and the path to achieve them) are perfectly clear, then then it’s time for an accountability conversation. What have you noticed that’s different from the vision? Yes, an I.N.S.P.I.R.E. or A.R.T. of accountability approach will help here.
And, if their vision of what success looks like is different from yours, it’s time to reset expectations.
For example, perhaps you think they SHOULD know that building trusting relationships with their co-workers matters. But if you have not clarified that creating a high-performing team culture is a strategic priority, it’s not fair to expect them to prioritize that effort.
A note here. If you’ve never been explicit about a specific performance expectation, this is an opportunity to build deeper trust and collaboration. Own it (even if you think they SHOULD have known). Something like, “I know we haven’t talked about this much before, but success in this role is that you will be a role model for your peers in managing conflict. As one of our most experienced team members, I need your help in rising above the drama and helping me get this team working together.”
3. Discuss obstacles and roadblocks.
It’s likely they’re as frustrated as you. No one wakes up in the morning choosing mediocre performance.
Ask (and really listen to) what’s getting in the way. If they’re stuck in the minutia, why? If they’re working long hours and still not accomplishing their most important things, how are they spending their time?
If they’re a people manager do they need to reset performance expectations for their own team? Do they need help, planning, and holding a courageous performance conversation (see also how to be a more courageous manager).
Do they need more resources, or to learn additional techniques for being more resourceful?
4. Have them turn the conversation into a practical plan.
One big mistake we often see in these conversations is that it all SOUNDS good. You think you’re aligned, but nothing changes. Have them write what success looks like for the next 90 days in terms of tangible results, practical activities, and behaviors—and how they will measure success.
For example, if the expectation is 50% of the time spent with their sales team building strategic relationships, write that specific goal, and ask them to track it. This might feel like micro-managing, but it’s all in the delivery.
“I really care about you and your success. And if we both agree that the key to that success is time with your team building trusted customer relationships, let’s track that for a quarter and see how that’s working and if anything is getting in the way.”
5. Schedule the finish with a calendar appointment.
If you have natural one-on-ones or quarterly meetings built into your communication cadence, pick one where you’ll revisit these refreshed performance expectations again. Getting it on the calendar is a great way to ensure they stay focused on the plan.