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Featuring high on the list of complaints I have listened to from various clients over the last few years about their teams, is: “…they’re just not doing what I want them to”.

And it comes in many guises:

  • The “they showed such promise in the interview but have turned out to be a turkey” guise
  • The “but they knew I needed that information in time for the Client/ Customer/ Board meeting” guise
  • The “but they know where to find that sort of information” guise
  • And, not forgetting the “but they should just know!” guise

Chances are however, it’s not them. It’s you. Yup. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s true.

Communication Is Everything When It Comes To Performance Expectations

When I start to ask questions at this point and delve into the details of how they set expectations, it becomes clear that 9 times out of 10, clear direction from them on what is actually required has been lacking, if not entirely absent.

Indeed one manager I know actually used the phrase “but I pay them to know what to do!” when asked why he had not actually spoken to his team about what he wanted. Fair enough you might say. You pay a wage and you expect certain standards to be delivered. But where things are not being delivered, it’s because of a disconnect about what you think you may have said about them, and what was understood by what these ‘standards’ are.

You might think that what you said had been understood by all, but how did you summarise and play it back? Did you involve them in how they might deliver what was being asked? Did you check to see that they understood what you had asked? And, crucially, did you do this in the way in which your team work best? Because each team member is likely to hear different things. What is understood by one team member, may not be understood in the same way as another as we all learn differently. Which is why you should also write things down and follow up wherever possible. Your role here is as a coach, helping them to see how they can achieve the goal in hand, providing the support (and environment) so that they can deliver with aplomb and inspiring them to want to do it.

That person you hired that isn’t working out. Do you think there’s a chance you could have seen that coming during the assessment process? Did you discuss the job description and what success of the role would be measured on? Was there more you could have done to help them get on in their first few weeks? Or how about that project you briefed into the team? Anything awry with your timescales or the description of deliverables you gave? Once you start questioning your own communication style, chances are you might uncover some ways to help your team (and yourself in the process).

There’s No One Single Way To Get Great Performance Every Time

But there are some simple steps you can take to get your message across and make the dark art of getting people to perform and behind you a darn sight clearer:

  1. Set Expectations From The Outset: From up to date job descriptions to quality time during the interview process and discussing what success in the role looks like. This stage is critical.
  2. Support Them When They Do Join: Don’t just leave it to chance that they will ‘pick it up’. Spend time with your new recruit on a regular basis outlining what you expect from them and when. Like to be updated on a weekly basis on how the product is progressing? Tell them. Show them. Share with them how you do it. Try it all.
  3. Focus On WIIFT: For you it’s probably very clear what you get out of their high performance, but What’s In It For Them? Learn what motivates them and push those buttons to get the most of out of your team.
  4. Return The Favour: Give them feedback on how their doing. Do it immediately and make it real. A well-timed comment along the lines of “That campaign you ran totally hit the mark in terms of coverage but the signups we were after didn’t materialise. Let’s analyse it together and see how we can do it differently next time” is far more supportive and constructive than leaving it a few months to the end of the probation to tell them they didn’t get the results you were after. You’ll have missed valuable time for them to improve and will look as though you were too incompetent to raise it beforehand.
  5. Keep Talking: Few people like to work in a vacuum, so keep the conversation flowing. It builds relationships. Makes giving feedback (good and bad) much easier. And makes people feel involved.

Not Even The Professionals Are Immune

Despite spending much of my adult life coaching on the subject, I’m not immune from it either. There’s been many a time over the years when I found myself ‘tutting’ in my head when a piece of work failed to materialise or arrived half finished. At that point I have to check myself and think about what exactly I said/ did/ wrote when I communicated what I wanted. Almost every single time I realised that I hadn’t been clear over the importance of what I’ve asked for, why I’ve asked for something and what exactly I’ve needed.

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Photo Credit: Day158 – Channeling by nataliej