Manage Expectations Not People

My son’s soccer coach yelled from the sideline, “You guys play like **** play better.” When I finished laughing, I thought about everything that was wrong with his pithy directive. In fact, I was so impressed by his negative example for directing and motivating people that I’m here sharing it with you twenty-five years later!

The coach may have produced more positive results by focusing on strategy, skills, or teamwork. He could have demonstrated the proper way to execute a skill, showcased an exemplary player’s method, or specifically described poor technique so that players know what to stop doing. Instead, his lack of detail left players confused and demoralized.

Know What You Expect

As a manager, you are responsible for the success or failure of your team. Most likely, you achieve your goals through the effort of others. Therefore, it makes sense to provide strategic direction and performance confirmation regularly and frequently.

Start by answering the following questions:

  • What do you need your employees to produce that helps you achieve your goals? For example:
    • Information, reports, communications, questionnaires, and surveys
    • Plans, schedules, processes, steps, directions, and instructions
    • Designs, analyses, lessons, and evaluations
  • Have you prioritized tasks appropriately?
  • Have you set quality standards for the work products you require them to produce?
  • How are you monitoring progress?

Lead People-Manage Expectations

My favorite managers provided enough detail to promote confidence and competence without micromanaging. Here are some tips I learned from their examples:

  • Model the skills and performance you expect
  • Utilize exemplary performers to help set standards
  • Provide detailed instructions, guidance, and resources
  • Provide both positive and negative work product examples

The last bullet is particularly relevant when you need to describe a work product in terms of characteristics or attributes. For example, if you require employees to produce and maintain a list of the company’s ‘best’ customers, you’ll need to define the attributes of the ‘best’ customers as well as the ‘worst’ customers to serve as guidance. Taking time to set such standards eliminates confusion, saves time, and improves productivity.

Performance Not Personalities

My worst manager was prone to change his mind often and provide little to no detail. He would ask me to produce something with guidance that included, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Managers who take this approach put their own success at risk while setting employees up for failure.

Also, if you find yourself assessing performance using phrases such as “She has a poor attitude” or “He lacks initiative” it is a sure sign that you need to focus on expectations, skills, and performance rather than personalities.

Remember to repeat, frequently, ‘why’ quality work products are critical for success. Regularly review performance, watch for patterns of productive behavior, and deal with slips immediately. Remind employees how their effort impacts the corporate strategy and your team’s success. In other words, manage expectations and lead people.

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