Raising the Bar: How Setting High Expectations Inspires Deeper Commitment
I’ve spoken with many leaders over the past 15 years, and the majority have told me that they have at least one or two (and often more) employees who are doing the minimal amount of required work. But here is the thing: If leaders are not communicating high expectations, they shouldn’t be shocked by mediocrity.
Creating change is a simple matter of raising expectations.
Higher expectations challenge people, and that demonstrates leaders’ belief in their value. People who want to grow beyond minimum expectations are the people you want in your organization. And showing how you expect them to grow provides an opportunity, not a task.
Think back to your own personal sources of inspiration throughout your life. Was your favorite leader someone who handed you a participation trophy, or was it someone who believed in you and pushed you to do more and be better?
Across the board, leaders tell me that their favorite leaders were those who challenged them and had faith that they could rise up to meet those challenges. These are the kinds of leaders who shape development and build more just like them.
Deepening Employees’ Commitment to Growth
Establishing and communicating higher expectations should continue throughout the employee’s journey — from the moment she sees your job description to the day she leaves the company. This can be challenging for both the employee and the leader, but communicating your expectations more effectively should become the norm.
Here is how to do so at four distinct employment phases.
Many hiring managers miss the mark with their job descriptions. Most traditional job descriptions outline skillset and tasks to be performed. Instead, the recruitment message should be a job profile that describes desired outcomes, rather than required skills. As an example, let’s examine a few items from a traditional job description for a production coordinator position:
- Process weekly productivity and quality deficiency reports.
- Lead semiweekly safety meetings.
- Oversee maintenance issues and equipment repair.
- Produce weekly shift schedule.
Sounds good, right? Hold on. Let’s look at how we would address similar functions in a high-performance job profile:
- Set and communicate the highest levels of expectation and performance.
- Create a climate of accountability at every level.
- Develop a team of cross-trained problem solvers.
- Flawlessly execute line changeovers in a timely manner.
The difference should be obvious: The latter sets high expectations and defines what you want to be accomplished in the role. The former provides only a checklist of tasks that simply requires someone to do the minimum.
Well-defined job profiles don’t just establish expectations from the start; they also attract better talent. People who like to be challenged, utilize their talents, and add value will jump at a strong job profile. You will get candidates who see your opportunity as the perfect fit.
2. The Interview
You might think setting lofty expectations during an interview will scare away candidates. However, high-performing individuals feel called to challenges, while low performers will simply move onto the next task-driven job description.
If someone is applying, she has reviewed the job profile and understands what is expected of her. Remember: High performers will feed and thrive on the expectations you outline.
In addition to setting high expectations from the get-go, ask behavioral-based interview questions. These will reveal the candidate’s character and thinking patterns. Additionally, ask four or five current high-performing employees to engage the interview candidates in a peer hiring practice. Your current employees want to bring people on board who will fit in well and perform at the highest levels.
Finally, engage candidates in simulations that bring to light how they will act in various workplace situations. Implement these processes during interviews, and the highest performers will stand out above the rest.
3. The First Year
Approximately 20% of newly hired employees leave the company within their first 45 days. You can abate this by communicating expectations in a way that inspires trust, respect, and commitment to new employees.
Creating relationships is key here. Get to know people: The better you know someone, the easier it is to identify her goals and capabilities. Relationships that grow out of trust allow you to discuss team goals with employees more comfortably, and they also remove the sting from discussions about performance gaps.
Trust and respect are built through behavior, not words. You can provide plenty of guidance and direction, but simply telling employees to trust the leadership team is not going to do much. It takes time, but if you are honest, show interest, and demonstrate consistency, the trust will flow naturally.
Then, you’ll have the foundation for a highly engaged and thriving team. As an added bonus, employees in a challenging, supportive environment are nearly 60% less likely to seek employment elsewhere.
4. Promotion Time
Don’t look at promotions as just a change in title and money. Employees should continually grow in their abilities. You can support and coach employees as they learn new responsibilities and take on challenges — preparing them for even bigger challenges in the future. Ultimately, the new responsibilities employees learn will prepare them to keep moving up, but the growth should be continuous.
That is why communicating clear expectations through every phase of the employee journey is vital to ongoing growth and productivity. And if leaders focus on establishing high expectations for everyone, followed with coaching and feedback, petty notions of favoritism become a thing of the past.
The path to position promotions for employees can be clearly outlined with a well-thought-out development plan. This plan is created through the collaboration between you and the employee, and it communicates the expectations for moving to the next level. In one survey, 77% of professionals said that direct communication with supervisors was the first step toward promotion.
A Simple Plan for Bringing Out the Best in Your Employees
Communicating higher expectations clearly and effectively requires you to expect more of yourself, too. It goes beyond simply telling your team to work harder, smarter, and longer. Well-defined expectations instill a sense of purpose, pride, and ownership in employees.
How do you lead your employees to higher standards of excellence? Let me know in the comments.
This article was written by Bob Dusin and published in Tweak Your Biz on August 20, 2019.
About This Contributor
Create value and a workplace where people want to be.
Bob expands on the lessons we can learn from 45-year run of Saturday Night Live, and how we can apply those savme principles to our workplace. What has made SNL so successful, sustainable, and current is critical to today's leadership.