It's Critically Important That Employees Know What Is Expected of Them


Are there things managers and leaders can do to lay the foundation for good employee engagement?

Gallup says there is, and some recent work they published around improving employee productivity shows that there is a direct relationship between better engagement and higher levels of productivity and profit.

The benefits of better engagement

According to their research, business units in the top quartile of employee engagement:

  • Are 21 percent more profitable;
  • Are 17 percent more productive,
  • Have 10 percent better customer ratings;
  • Experience 41 percent less absenteeism; and,
  • Suffer 70 percent fewer safety incidents compared with business units in the bottom quartile.

So given all of that, the question is pretty simple: How do you improve employee engagement?

This is an issue that has bedeviled companies everywhere, and an entire industry of consultants and companies has grown up around the notion that improving engagement is critical to improving employee performance and an organization's bottom line.

It hasn't helped, and as Gallup always notes, "Only about one-third of U.S. workers are engaged at work -- and that figure has barely budged in more than a decade. Worse, just 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged."

Clear expectations are key

Can anything be done to help? Gallup says there is:

Given the inherent challenges associated with engaging workers, executives have asked, "If we were to reduce this massive problem to a single element of employee engagement, which would be most important?"

It's not that simple. Among the 12 elements of employee engagement, no single element is of chief importance because each organization or workgroup continuously changes and -- depending on current circumstances -- can benefit from emphasizing different elements.

Nonetheless, Gallup research suggests that setting clear expectations may be the most foundational element."

Close-up of business partners making pile of hands at meeting

4 best practices worth following

The researchers go on to list four best practices for establishing expectations that Gallup has learned from studying "more than 31 million employees over the past four decades." They found that when setting expectations, leaders and managers should ensure they are:

  1. Developed collaboratively -- Companies need to get workers' input, collaborating with them to agree on role expectations. With this approach, workers will be more likely to own their expectations and succeed
  2. Articulated clearly -- Managers shouldn't make workers guess. With each employee, managers should talk openly about expectations and be crystal clear about what they expect.
  3. Aimed at excellence -- Workers aren't inspired by minimum job standards such as showing up on time or submitting time sheets using the proper process. Instead, managers can bring out the very best in each worker by talking about what top performers do differently and then setting expectations based on those best-in-class behaviors.
  4. Individualized to strengths -- Employees do not want to spend the majority of their time on tasks they lack interest or proficiency in. When managers help workers better understand what comes naturally to them -- their innate strengths -- and then position them to use those talents more at work, employee performance and engagement both skyrocket.

Zeroing in on strengths

My take: Gallup clearly makes the point that "focusing on strengths is one of a manager's sharpest tools." This is not a new concept, because Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, made the case for this on numerous occasions.

The question I have is this -- "how can we get managers focused on setting clear and attainable expectations that clearly help to drive performance to higher levels?" It may sound simple to just go out and get managers focused, but my experience is that managers aren't particularly good at setting goals and expectations.

Concentrating on goals that are "individualized to strengths" may be one answer, but clearly, finding time to help set goals and expectations are critical if you really want to drive engagement ahead.

As Gallup says very clearly,

After zeroing in on the right targets with clear expectations, managers can unleash employees' greatest performance by focusing on their strengths."

Editor’s Note: Want to know if your employees are clear about what is expected of them? Checkster’s 360 Checkup can help give you quick, pointed and timely feedback on how your people are doing -- and what they are thinking.