Just about everyone has a term for how you measure performance. Some call it metrics. Some call it key performance indicators. You probably have a term of your own.


I am not all that concerned about the term you use. I’m more concerned with how you determine what’s expected of your people. Or more to the point, who is involved with that decision-making.


The easy thing to do, especially if you’re focused on showing everyone you’re in charge, is to simply dictate the expectations and let everyone know they’re expected to meet them. Many a boss has gone down this road, thinking clarity is all that’s needed to get performance out of people.


That is not how you get the best results. If you dictate expectations to people, they will give you the minimum effort required to deliver on those expectations. And they will give you no more than that.


This is human nature. With no say in the expectations you set, your employees won’t buy-in or give their best effort to deliver optimal results.


So how do you get that? I am certainly not suggesting that everything be done by consensus. Someone has to be the decision-maker, and sometimes it is necessary to apply the knowledge you have as a leader and assert that certain things are non-negotiable.


But that doesn’t exclude engaging your people in a process to help define expectations. As the leader, it is your job to define the goals that must be achieved. Effective leaders understand that goals are best achieved by teams who have input on the measures that will get them there.


My observations from 20-plus years in the business world tell me that the best results come from teams who have been asked by the boss:


  • How can we work together to accomplish these goals?
  • How will we measure, daily or weekly, the process to get there?
  • What does the team need from each team member in order to get there?

People appreciate having input on these issues, but it’s more than that. Getting your team’s input will help you align your expectations with their strengths, their thinking and their understanding of how the team is structured.


You know a lot about your team, but you don’t know everything. Hearing from the members of your team about how best to accomplish these goals will allow you to set expectations they are more likely to master on an ongoing basis.


Consider the business goals of a baseball team. The owner of the team wants as many people as possible buying tickets, buying gear and buying food from the concession stands. That’s how he makes money.


One crucial element of any strategy to achieve this will involve winning games. The more games you win, the better the chance people will buy tickets, gear and so forth. But you don’t want your starting pitcher looking around in the stands and thinking to himself, “We only drew 15,000 tonight. I should do something about this.”


No, his job is to pitch well. This might be obvious when we’re talking about baseball. But within your company, how many people are thinking about too many things they shouldn’t be? If you asked them what the expectations should be for them to meet the larger goal, what might they tell you that would help keep them focused on the right things?


Simply asking the question will boost the contribution each employee makes to achieving the larger goals.


Also, you will boost engagement. A lot. It will give you a solid helping of what Gallup calls discretionary effort.


What is that discretionary effort? Let’s go back to our statement earlier about how employees who have expectations dictated to them will give you the minimal effort required to meet those expectations. The minimal effort involves no discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is what they’re willing to give you beyond mandated requirements, because they want to.


Gallup’s research suggests that engaged employees give as much as 40 percent discretionary effort. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working harder. It means they’re more engaged and invested in achieving the expectations that have been set – because they helped to set them.


Plus, they had the chance to tell you what they do well.


Let’s use another baseball example. What if a pitcher had the capacity to throw 20 pitches per each appearance? That’s not a lot if you know baseball. It will barely get you through one inning. But what if he’s absolutely amazing throwing those 20 pitches? Is there a role for him? Absolutely. That’s called a closer, because you can use him in the ninth inning when the pressure is on to protect a lead and close out a game.


But if you try to use him as a starting pitcher, he’ll start getting knocked around by the second or third inning. Letting him tell you what you should expect from him allows you to define a role in which he can thrive and offer the maximum contribution.


Why not do the same with your team members? It’s still up to you to define the goals, and it’s still up to you to set the parameters in which your expectations of them have to fit. I do not believe in 100 percent management by consensus.


But listen to them, and take advantage of the information they give you when setting expectations. This is how you’ll get the most engaged, the best aligned and the most effective workforce.


In other words, the best results. And that’s what you’ve been looking for all along, isn’t it?


Written by: Wade Wyant

Red Wagon Advisors