High Employee Expectations Drive Performance

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Why is it important to communicate employee expectations? How does setting high expectations for employee performance help drive better results for your organization?

Your expectations of your team affect how they perform: when you expect people to do well, they tend to follow suit. Conversely, when you expect people to fail, they probably will. Your employee expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy—how you see them is how they will see themselves. 

Here are three ways to show your team you have high expectations.

High Expectations Drive Performance

Your expectations provide a framework through which employees structure their behavior. One series of studies illustrated this well: researchers found that when giving feedback, if they prefaced it with a statement like, “I’m giving you this critique because I have high expectations and I’m confident you can do this,” the person receiving the feedback was 40% more likely to accept and act on the feedback. 

When leaders make a point of frequently telling people they believe in them and expect great things from them, team members report stronger feelings of trust, team spirit, and commitment. 

To show your team that you have high expectations:

  • Show them you believe in them.
  • Be clear about rules and expected outcomes.
  • Provide and seek feedback. 

1. Show Them You Believe in Them

Your job as a leader is to draw out the best in your team. When you trust in their skills, they’ll become more confident and approach tasks with a more positive attitude.

  • Think of them as winners, and treat them accordingly. Be positive, supportive, encouraging, and friendly. 
  • Don’t come across as though you’re looking for mistakes; when people feel their manager is looking for problems, they’re likely to make more mistakes out of anxiety. 
  • Assign them tasks and projects just above their current level of responsibilities. When you do this, you encourage them to stretch their abilities, and you demonstrate your confidence that they can do it.

2. Be Clear About Rules and Expected Outcomes

People can’t live up to your expectations if they aren’t clear on what those expectations are. Make sure your team members know what you’re looking for, and praise them when they deliver. 

To really instill your employee expectations, constantly reiterate your goals. Goals give context to your recognition of others’ work and enhance the importance of that recognition, allowing others to see how their actions contribute to the larger picture.

When a team member doesn’t perform to your standards:

  • Outline for them clearly and specifically what they need to do to improve. 
  • Assure them that you have confidence they can do it.
  • Connect their effort to your overriding goal—for example, you might point out, “The more we do this, the better the outcomes for the patients.”

3. Provide Feedback

Without feedback, your team won’t know how they’re progressing—or not—toward their goals. Be clear about what markers of success and milestones you’re looking for, so that people know what sub-goals to aim for in pursuit of the larger goal. 

People crave feedback because they want guidance. Research shows that peoples’ motivation increases only when they have both a challenging goal and feedback on their progress. Feedback helps people self-correct as they work toward a goal so they achieve it sooner and more effectively. When your team makes mistakes, they can learn from them only if you discuss those mistakes, pointing them out and providing clear feedback on how they can do better. Without feedback, mistakes can be overlooked, allowing them to be repeated.

The traditional advice on giving feedback is to give it in a “sandwich” form, where the critical “meats” are sandwiched between two slices of praise. Others, though, have rethought that method and instead recommend a different approach: 

  • Start by explaining why you’re giving your feedback. People are more receptive to feedback when they understand its reason and feel you have their best interests at heart.
  • Next, share how similar feedback has helped you in your challenges. This helps people be more open to negative feedback because they won’t see you as confrontational, but instead, as a partner.
  • Finally, ask the person if they want to hear the feedback. If they agree (and they usually will), then they’ll feel more ownership of it and will hear it less defensively. 
High Employee Expectations Drive Performance

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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