The Importance of Setting Employee Expectations and Other Suggestions for Being a Great Boss

It is amazing to see all of the free advice a leader (or manager) gets today on being productive and efficient. I typed the words “Leadership Advice” into my search engine and received 327,000,000 hits in 0.48 seconds. Most of this wisdom is captured in 25 pages of indexed articles, stories, advice and tips on being a better manager. It also includes nearly 7,780,000 videos appearing on YouTube in 0.30 seconds. You could spend your entire professional life learning to be a better leader, except you will have no time to lead because you will be consumed with free advice from nearly everyone.

I consider myself a lifelong learner, but I simply don’t have the time to commit to learning everything. So here is my best advice that has been very successful in my career.

  1. Set expectations for your employees immediately.

 Think of your previous jobs. Did anyone really take the time to set your expectations on what to do, what is important, and what NOT to do? Probably not. We spend much of our time looking for a great employee. We may put the candidate through the paces, check their references and brag to current employees about how great the “new person’ will be for the organization.

But once we have hired the person, we don’t use nearly the same amount of time spent finding the candidate to explicitly lay out our expectations for their success. The new person is then forced to learn the process, culture and priorities of the organization and the supervisor.

But what if we were to officially on-board the employee and immerse them in the workings of the organization and what he or she can expect from the culture? It is almost like using magic! He or she starts performing at exceptional levels and goes on to deliver incredible value.

I generally have a PowerPoint presentation outlining the organization, explaining the roles of others and highlighting mission, strategic goals, and what their job will demand. I have specific performance metrics that we go over right off the bat, so there is no future misunderstanding of performance. I also will share with the new employee my board-determined metrics. It makes the point that we are all one team and will rise or fall based on our ability to combine our unique talents and experiences. It’s simple but it works.

  1. Focus on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses.

The father of modern management practices, the late Peter Drucker, routinely reminded managers and leaders to focus on the strengths of individuals, not their weaknesses. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. But you cannot build a team by constantly focusing on when someone does not have an exceptional quality. Negativity is all around us. Exceptional leaders stay positive, support their team and get incredible results.

  1. Focus on metrics results to keep any evaluations or reviews as objective as possible.

I spent years dreading my evaluations. My superior would often take what I thought was a significant amount of time mentioning my mishaps. But then I had the chance to lead and felt we should take personalities out of the review process. We should look at goals, results and achievements. I found it also helped the employee perform better and appreciate their review. Importantly, make the metrics realistic and achievable while also requiring the employee to stretch his or her talents. More often than not, the person wants to succeed!

  1. Treat people like you want to be treated. Be respectful, inclusive and uplifting in all your interactions.

I am always amazed at how poorly employers or leaders treat their subordinates. No one wants to work in that environment. Being respectful, inclusive and uplifting with team members always pays off. Being rude, mean or insensitive is not only leading with the wrong values, but those qualities will ultimately hurt your own ability to succeed. Just be pleasant. Don’t let people take advantage of your kindness. Individuals who are treated with dignity are likely to be superior performers for your organization.

  1. Share success. Don’t let ego take control of you.

I have never met anyone who did not want to share the success of others. But I have had many a manager who allowed his or her ego to take all the credit and make it about them. I remind my graduate students (perhaps too frequently) what Lord Acton said many years ago: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We probably all know lots of individuals who turned out to be horrible people because power went to their heads.

  1. Don’t tolerate bad behavior.

If you have a bad employee, set them straight. Go through the needed performance metrics. If they refuse to be part of the team, you must help them ease out of the organization. Their continued presence will be a signal to others that poor performance is acceptable. It will eat away at the entire culture of the organization.

  1. Ignore gossip and avoid being used to cause unnecessary employee rivalries.

Stay far above office rivalries and especially office gossip. As the leader, you are constantly being observed. You start picking sides among employees when you listen and repeat gossip. It needs to stay out of your organization. I was known to tell folks I worked with to not repeat gossip – that they needed to focus on their job. And they did. I did not want drama in the office. It never helped us make our metrics.

  1. Repeat the first seven steps daily.

Repeat these steps every single day. Build a culture of exceptional performance based on objective measurement. You will drive more value for your stakeholders and your organization will be a better place to spend much of your time.

You could probably spend hours reading all sorts of tips on being a better manager or leader but if you get this right, you will be well on your way to incredible success.

David Rehr is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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