In today’s ever-changing business landscape, business leaders worldwide are fixated on driving performance, hitting targets and enhancing efficiency.
However, HR teams often find themselves grappling with the challenge of translating these ambiguous objectives into concrete performance expectations for employees.
Let’s face it, the past five years have been brutal for HR professionals. They’ve had to navigate the war for talent, the pandemic and remote work, the great resignation and large waves of layoffs.
Today, they are facing the latest trend that is slowing down many organisations: ‘the Big Stay’ (having to manage a high number of disengaged employees that feel disconnected from the company’s mission).
Great, undefined expectations
In a recent collaboration with YouGov at Lattice, we conducted employee sentiment research that shed light on a disconcerting lack of clarity surrounding performance expectations.
Shockingly, only 21% of UK employees fully understood what their employers expected of them during performance reviews, promotions or pay raises.
Even more concerning, a mere 22% believed they had clear performance expectations and metrics for their roles. Not exactly a recipe for success, is it?
How can we expect employees to deliver exceptional performance when they are left in the dark, unaware of what’s expected of them or how to measure their own success?
Building clarity and alignment around performance objectives
The burning question is this: How can we expect employees to deliver exceptional performance when they are left in the dark, unaware of what’s expected of them or how to measure their own success?
It’s like asking someone to hit a bullseye blindfolded and then acting surprised when they miss. It simply doesn’t add up.
That’s where the crucial importance of setting clear performance expectations comes into play.
It’s time to stop assuming that everyone is on the same page and start mapping out actionable goals in a tangible manner.
No more vague or ambiguous statements that leave people scratching their heads. We need crystal-clear guidelines, objectives and metrics that leave no room for interpretation.
Equipping employees with the right tools to navigate changes
But it doesn’t end with setting expectations alone. We must invest in programmes that support employees in meeting those expectations. We need to provide them with the modern tools and resources to navigate all these recent changes.
Now, let’s dive into the linked but separate issues at hand. The first issue lies in business leaders and executives struggling to establish clear company-wide objectives that can be translated into departmental, team and individual goals.
Once these objectives are in place, the challenge shifts to effectively communicating, monitoring and measuring performance against them.
It doesn’t end with setting expectations alone. We must invest in programmes that support employees in meeting those expectations. We need to provide them with the modern tools and resources to navigate all these recent changes.
Ensuring alignment with OKRs
To bridge this gap, I’ve always been a proponent of the cascading ‘objectives and key results’ (OKRs) model.
By reviewing the company’s priorities and developing three to five top-level objectives critical to success and growth, we create a waterfall effect. All departmental, team, and individual OKRs should flow down from these top-level goals, ensuring alignment.
One common pitfall in this model is failing to attach concrete, measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics to the key results.
While some key results may be challenging to quantify, it’s essential to set agreed milestones that can be measured on a simple ‘yes/no’ basis.
The 33/33/33 approach to performance management
Next, let’s discuss the 33/33/33 approach to performance management. This holistic approach divides performance assessment into three core categories, each with equal weighting: performance, competencies and values.
By evaluating performance against KPIs, assessing how goals were achieved, and examining alignment with company values, we create a well-rounded evaluation process.
This model prevents rewarding top-performing employees that are not embracing your values but it also helps to identify your low-performers that are a pleasure to work with in order to bring them back on track.
However, it’s important to remember that in addition to this approach, a well-defined individual development plan (IDP) can serve as a tangible baseline for growth conversations, aligning employee development with business needs.
Different HR professionals may have found specific IDP templates that work well for them, but feel free to draw inspiration from templates such as the one I personally use and adapt it to your specific requirements.
By evaluating performance against KPIs, assessing how goals were achieved, and examining alignment with company values, we create a well-rounded evaluation process
Setting your employees up for success and unlocking their potential
Essential HR programs such as regular one-to-ones, clear career growth paths and access to professional development resources have long been considered best practices in the industry.
However, our recent research revealed shockingly low percentages of employees benefiting from these critical skills development conversations.
For instance, only 13% of employees reported having a clear career growth path, and only 15% claimed to have regular career growth conversations with their managers.
Without a visible path for progression and a lack of understanding regarding what it takes to advance, motivation, performance and morale will suffer.
Clearly defined career tracks are crucial tools for retaining top talent and motivating high performers.
Are your employees motivated to go the extra mile?
Lastly, to unlock high performance and individual employee potential, we must create an environment where discretionary effort thrives.
This means employees willingly go the extra mile, think creatively, be entrepreneurial, take initiative and invest extra effort because they are motivated by meaningful work, committed to the company’s success, and confident that their hard work will be recognised and rewarded.
Transparency regarding performance expectations and measurement, clear alignment between individual goals and company objectives, and a culture that fosters and celebrates high performance and excellence are essential ingredients in cultivating an environment where discretionary effort flourishes.
By aligning company objectives with individual action plans, addressing communication gaps, and creating an environment where discretionary effort thrives, we can pave the way for exceptional performance, employee growth and overall success
Clarity and investment for success
While one-off bonuses or performance-based incentives may yield short-term bursts of effort, fostering a culture where discretionary effort thrives will yield far greater long-term returns.
In the current climate, setting clear performance expectations and investing in programmes to support employees in meeting those expectations are of the utmost importance.
By aligning company objectives with individual action plans, addressing communication gaps, and creating an environment where discretionary effort thrives, we can pave the way for exceptional performance, employee growth and overall success.
If you enjoyed this, read: Eight ways to hold empowering career conversations with employees