I often get asked, “How do you manage performance?”  It seems that this is an age-old quandry.  Leaders establish the expectation of high performance but are invariably awash with reasonable excuses as to why tasks are not completed as expected.  They want to demand high performance but at the same time be fair in their expectations.  The job does not get done to their satisfaction and the frustrations build.

There are several aspects to this question.  One is “How high is high enough for setting your expectations?” 

That’s easy.  Set your expectations of others at the same level as you set them for yourself.  Expect nothing less of anyone else than you demand of yourself.  If you do, then you will frequently find yourself frustrated with the performance of your team and you will not be as successful as you can be.  Do not assume that “being easy” on people will make them like you.  It will not.  They will see you as weak and will not respect you. 

Clarity is most frequently the problem.  I understand what I am asking for, but I do not get that across as clearly as I need to.

Another aspect of the performance question is “How do you handle the situation when you ask for one thing and get back something that is entirely different than what you wanted?” 

Over the years I have developed a simple three step approach to managing this type of performance issue.  This approach enables you to maintain a consistent drive for high performance, frees you of any concern about giving people a fair chance, and improves your skill at doing all you can to enable your people to perform at their best.

First, establish clarity.  Are they clear about what is expected of them?  Have you explained to them exactly what you want?  Have you been CLEAR?  This is most frequently the problem.  Clarity!!!  I understand what I am asking for, but I do not get that across as clearly as I need to.  This is not THEIR problem, it is YOUR problem…meaning a problem for BOTH of you.

The clarity problem exists both in the interpretation of the words used to describe the task, but also in the level of detail to which it is described.  The simple fix regarding clarity is to ask the individual to repeat back to you what you are asking for and to go into detail about what it is that you expect to see when they have finished.  This step may take some time, but you will be surprised how often you hear something back that is off target from what you thought you had said.  The problem is not that they are stupid.  It is that invariably we have a vision in our mind of what it is that we expect and it is so clear to us that we simply assume that it is to everyone else as well.  We do not go into adequate detail to explain it to them.  They, on the receiving end, are listening to what we are telling them and do not want to sound stupid or slow the process by asking a lot of questions.  They don’t, and they walk away unclear as to your expectations.

Second, ensure that they have the resources to do the job.  Once you have established clarity send the person back to do what it is you have asked of them.  If they return a second time with a substandard product, explore the following.  Do they have the resources to do the job?  Do they have the right training?  Do they have the right equipment and supplies?  Did they have enough time to do the job?  If not, correct those aspects of the situation and send them back to do it again.

Finally, if they still return with a substandard product then you can conclude that they are either unwilling or unable to do the job correctly.  Now you are free of the concern about being fair and you can act as appropriate to get the right person in the position.