Hey Boss, What Do You Want from Me?

Setting Clear Employee Expectations Leads to a More Engaged Team

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Zoom manager meeting

“Hey John! How’s it going?” I heard from behind me as I made my way down the aisle looking for a particular lighting fixture. 

It was Mike, a manager at a store where I was running a department. I was new and there were a lot of moving parts to my store-within-the-store for which I now had accountability.

After a little conversation, something that Mike was really good at, he asked what I was working on. “I’m doing the SmartList,” I told him. The SmartList was a process we did every week. The short version is that it is part of ongoing inventory management, but to me on this day, it was just something I had to get through before about a hundred other things.

“Has anybody ever shown you why we do the SmartList?” Mike asked. He had me there. I found it interesting how he phrased the question. How he chose “shown” instead of “told” and “why” instead of “how”.

I told him, “No, not really. I mean, I know how to do it, but no one has ever shown me why we do it. Honestly, from what I know so far, it just seems like busy work.”

He smiled and said, “Let’s walk.” He took out his store phone while I followed along on mine. The phone holds the SmartList app. He told me about all the reasons for doing the SmartList process and then showed me an example. We found an item on the list and then went to the location based on the coordinates found in the app. Then he explained to me why the item was on the SmartList. We had sold only two of the items in the past month. He shared with me various reasons that might happen. For example, the item might be missing from the shelf (we’re out), or the shelf label (price) is missing, or the product is damaged and nobody wants to take it. In this instance, there was no clear reason why it wasn’t selling, but we had a lot of them. It was an LED recessed light trim for $16.98. Mike suggested I pull all of them down and make a display with some additional signage and then see what happened.

I sold 28 of them in the next four weeks. That’s why we do the SmartList.

Rather than simply saying, “Get your SmartList done by Wednesday.” What Mike did for me that day was show me why we did the process. Now that I understood and could dramatically drive sales on that one SKU out of the thousands I had, it really engaged me. I really got engaged and took ownership of my responsibility. The task that had been a drudgery, became one of the most interesting, educational, and engaging parts of my work.

A Foundation for Inspiring Performance

When managers connect with their employees on what is expected of them, and couple that with why what they do is important, they inspire alignment within the individual, team, and business goals. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 40% of employees in the U.S. do not know what’s expected of them at work. Getting them to know this is more than putting their job description in front of them and saying, “Here, read this and then do all that stuff.” Most of what they find in the job description they never actually do. Employees need to know what’s expected of them now. The best way to do that is to make sure they are shown why they do what you’ve asked them to do. 

There are 3 elements to effectively setting proper expectations:

  1. Show them what you expect – if you can’t measure it, they’ll never know how they’re doing, so find a way to measure it, or stop the process all together
  2. Measure their output against those expectations – once you have a way to measure, make sure you’re track and analyze what you’re measuring
  3. Provide feedback on their results – provide regular feedback on their progress in one on ones or walk arounds with your employees.

Why Knowing What’s Expected is Important

If you could shift that 40% of people who don’t know what’s expected of them to 20% you can realize a 14% reduction in turnover, a 20% reduction in safety incidents, and a 7% increase in productivity. If you can get a 7% productivity gain, that’s roughly a month of productivity from each and every employee. 

It may seem elementary that to do great work, people need to know what’s expected of them, but be that as it may, 40% still don’t know. Is your team’s average above or below the 40%? How can you be sure?

What to Do If You Suspect They Might Not Know What’s Expected

Here are two quick ways to assess whether or not they know what’s expected of them:

  1. How are they performing against your expectations now? Some managers assume that employees who are underperforming are choosing to underperform, or are simply bad employees. It’s more likely that they don’t know what’s expected of them.
  2. What are they telling you when you provide them with performance feedback? First, hopefully, you are providing them with performance feedback. If not, that might be your problem. If you are and they’re telling you, they’ll do better yet performance doesn’t improve, there’s probably something else at play. Dig deeper in your next one on one.

If you do all that, you’re likely to see an uptick in the performance of your team, and they’ll agree that they know what’s expected of them.

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