Posted by: davidhayden | April 8, 2010

The Expectation Factor: Why you need it to raise employee productivity and morale


Boy who is this new guy? He is our second manager in 2 months.  Shouldn’t take long to break him. . . . NOT!

From the very first production meeting we knew Fred was different.   But, Bob took the brunt of it.

Bob, was a supervisor over the plating department and when asked a direct question about scheduling, he had no answer.  Bob retreated into how busy he is, not enough time etc.

Fred’s response was calm, and a message to all of us.  As he looked around making eye contact with all 6 of us, he said:  “you all are supervisors, if you don’t know your area, what do I need you for?  Don’t ever come to a production meeting unprepared.”

With that, the meeting ended.

Are you a Fred Style Supervisor?
Fred had very clear expectations regarding what his supervisors were supposed to be doing.  As a result, we knew what was expected and were better for it.

First time supervisors typically have two things going against them right from the start.

  • They really don’t know what is expected from them
  • The really don’t know what to expect from their employees

With regards to the first problem, you must get clear on what is expected of you before you can outline expectations for your employees.  This may turn out to be far more challenging than setting out guidelines for your employees.

Chances are your boss does know what he/she wants
Many supervisors have told me their manager was so vague they had no idea what was expected of them.  And, the more they pushed for clarification, the more they frustrated their manager.  Eventually, they stopped asking.   Their sense was that the manager’s attitude was, if you don’t know what I want, maybe you’re not cut out for the job.

What a cop-out, don’t do that to your employees.

Hey everyone has a job description, I shouldn’t have layout any expectations
I know you aren’t really thinking that, but some supervisors do.  You and I know from experience people need to feel like they are contributing.  That’s half the reason we work the way we do, so we can  be a part of things, make a difference in whatever way we can.

The thing is people don’t feel respected if you don’t have expectations for them.  Have you ever walked into a meeting or situation ready to help and someone responded, “just make yourself busy, we really have this under control?”

Could you feel more dismissed or disrespected?

Setting reasonable expectations for people tells them you have faith in them.  It tells them you believe their contribution is important.

Not all employees are cut from the same cloth
If you manage a machine shop and you have three “machinists” you know they all have a little different skill sets.  One may be very detail oriented in search of the perfect part.  Another maybe a great production machinist and just wants to know where to stack the parts.

The expectations you set for your employees is dependent on a few things:

  • Their skill level
  • Their individual motivation
  • Background and training
  • Their years of experience

Here is an example out of my past.   I had two machinists working for me.  Both had better than 10 years experience.

George had ten years job shop experience.  He worked in small shops and ran every possible machine.  He saw thousands of different parts and had equally many challenges to overcome.

Darin on the other hand had 10 years experience in a large union shop.  He ran a total of 3 machines in 10 years and basically the same parts on every machine.

Both were considered journeyman machinists because they had completed a thorough apprenticeship program.

Both had the same job description and received similar wages.
Would any supervisor in his right mind, expect them to have identical skills?

To set appropriate expectations for these machinists, I had to do a SWOT analysis
If you have a little marketing background, you may recognize the SWOT analysis and wonder how in the world that could apply to setting expectations for employees.

Every employee has Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities for improvement, and Traits that Threaten their career development.  Hence the SWOT.

First, tell them that you would like to meet with them in a few days for an informal review.  Ask them to spend some time thinking about their strengths, weakness, opportunities (read desire for advancement) and critical traits or circumstances that they feel might hold them back.

To motivate them say something like, “I will be reviewing what I have seen of your work and will be doing the same thing.”  Saying that tends to put people on the defensive a little bit, which is good because, they will be more prepared to defend their strengths as they see them.

Keep the meeting casual start with strengths
Keep the meeting very casual and put them at ease.   Start by comparing strengths.  Ask them what they think their strengths are or go first, but compare and discuss and make sure you both update your lists.

Compare weakness with an emphasis on training/experience

Do the same thing with weakness.  But in this discussion, the emphasis should be on what training, or experience they need to develop these weak areas.   NOTE:  it is very important you do not promise training or experience you can not provide.  Empty promises will sink your credibility ship.

Discuss opportunities and opportunities for improvement

The opportunities discussion should cover two topics.  Where do you and the employee see him/her going in the future?  To what do they aspire?  And where do you see them having a greater contribution?

An important part of the opportunities conversation is the “how do we get there from here?” aspect.

The other opportunities topic is regarding improvements you need to see.  This is where you might bring up punctuality, neatness, reporting, any tangible measurable aspect of their performance of which you want to see improvement.

Threats and Traits – keep this short

The Traits/Threats topic should be brief.  Do not labor here or use this time to browbeat them.  Outline critical traits, if they have them, that you see are holding them back.  Again things like punctuality, ability to work with others, etc.  This conversation will focus on the more urgent, “it needs to be handled now” topics.

And with many employees, there may be no threats or negative traits to discuss.  All the better.

To wrap up this meeting keep two things in mind and both are very critical:

  • Either make a plan or make a future appointment to work out a plan to achieve the things you discussed.  As Fred would say, “setting goals without a plan is simply wishing.”
  • End on a positive note.  This is about making them successful and your commitment to help them be the best they can be.

Don’t look now, you have just set expectations.  They know what you expect, what you are looking for based their SWOT results.  And you have a plan for them to work to.

Now if you only had the time to do all this.   Can you afford not to do this?  When people perform to their expectations, you can focus on planning, scheduling, etc. instead of those nagging personnel issues.

The next morning, when Bob and I were walking to the production meeting, I asked “Are your ready for this?”

It was something to see.  Bob was beaming with pride.  “oh ya,” he said, “I am definitely ready for this.”

And he was.

Our second and subsequent production meetings with Fred typically were very short.  He quickly got the information he needed so he could shine in his operation meeting with the VP.  And we had the satisfaction of a job well done.

For some reason though, we started meeting our production schedules too.  I wonder why?

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