Achieving ‘great expectations’ with staff

Agreeing to provide feedback on an ongoing basis will mean you are providing both positive and negative feedback regularly and not simply when there is a negative message
Agreeing to provide feedback on an ongoing basis will mean you are providing both positive and negative feedback regularly and not simply when there is a negative message

The better you communicate how much you expect of your staff, the more you wil get from them



27 August 2008

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THE PROBLEM: "I run a small business in a relatively small town in Ireland. I recently promoted a long term employee, in order to reward their loyalty but also to keep the person because it can be really disruptive to lose one of your long term full-timers, and also really hard to replace them, so I didn’t want them to leave to try and find a better position somewhere else.

Unfortunately, since promoting the person things haven’t gone well. On the ground they’re still great but other aspects of what I require them to do seem to be a bit beyond them. I’ve tried telling them on a number of occasions but there’s still mistakes. I’m not quite sure what to do next about it, I’m kind of in a lose-lose situation".

THE ADVICE: This is a very common issue raised in coaching sessions. The solution usually focuses on expectations and communication. I have set out below some suggested action points that will help you. Choose the option(s) that suit you best.

I want you to take another look at your message to me.  “I recently promoted a long-term employee to reward their loyalty … and to keep the person”. 

Agreeing to provide feedback on an ongoing basis will mean you are providing both positive and negative feedback regularly and not simply when there is a negative message

Agreeing to provide feedback on an ongoing basis will mean you are providing both positive and negative feedback regularly and not simply when there is a negative message

I am a coach and not an expert in reading between the lines. I will, however, attempt to add in the “missing words”. My version of your first sentence is:

“I recently took a leap of faith and promoted a long-term employee even though this employee has not always been the best or lived up to my expectations. I really wanted to reward the loyalty of the employee, for being adequate and for being there every day even though the employee may not have always been motivated and enthusiastic. I took the risk as I did not want the disruption in finding a replacement.. I didn’t want the employee to leave to find a better position somewhere else. I assumed that when I promoted the person they would know that I had higher expectations of them even though I may have given the wrong message when I promoted the employee due to loyalty and not for being an excellent employee.”

Setting out expectations

Do you notice the difference between the two scenarios. Let’s call the person Tom. Tom is promoted to reward loyalty.  By promoting Tom, there is an underlying “understanding” that Tom was doing a fantastic job and therefore he is promoted. When you promoted Tom you raised the “bar” with regard to his role. You expected more of Tom in the senior position. You may have expected Tom to be grateful and he does not appear to be. You mention that you have tried to tell Tom a number of times but there are still mistakes. Before you communicate with Tom again, I would recommend you try the following:

Explain to Tom that you may not have been clear at the very start. Perhaps apologise? And then suggest that you start again. You set out very clearly your expectations for Tom in his new role. Maybe there are certain aspects of the new position that he feels are “above” him in his promoted position. Agree this role between both of you.

Once the role is agreed, you can set out your exact expectations around the role and the various tasks you require Tom to do in his new position.

Agree to provide feedback on an ongoing basis; maybe once a week to begin with. This will mean that you are providing both positive and negative feedback on a weekly basis and not simply when there is a negative message.

Imagine staff as new employees

When you are agreeing the role with Tom and discussing the expectations of the role, it is a good idea to imagine Tom as a new employee. How do you explain the role or expectation to a new employee. This may be useful for the newer tasks that are “beyond” him.  Giving a clear message may be difficult because of the nature of the relationship over the years. Take a step back and address the task/instruction from a different angle; the new employee approach. You may find that your expectations might be lower. You may even explain things in more detail, have more patience.

Recently I came across a tip from a book called the "The Dream Manager". In the book, Matthew Kelly tells the story of a large cleaning company who solves the problem of high employee turnover by employing a ‘dream manager’ — in essence an in-house life coach whose job it is to help people articulate their dreams, formulate plans, and follow through to achievement. You may find it easier to substitute ‘dream’ with ‘goal’ as this is what is envisaged in the book. How well do you know the goals of the people closest to you? How well do you know Tom’s goals?

Take some time this week to ask Tom, and maybe some of your other employees, about their goals – what do these employees long for? What would they love and what would make them go ‘wow!’? Let Tom know you are on his side – that you believe in him and will support and assist him in achieving his goals.

It might be useful to try this exercise out with other employees or someone you know very well first. You may be surprised with the results. Quite often we believe we know the goals and aspirations of those closest to us. It is only when we ask that we see how different the two can be.

Using the Pareto Principle

I want to introduce you to a management tool that is often associated with time management – the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule). In the 18th Century, economist, Wilfred Pareto was the first to discover that approximately 80% of the world’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of only 20% of the world’s population. Indeed, Pareto also noted that the 80/20 rule seemed to hold true in nearly every area of our lives. Many time management courses focus on the use of the Pareto Principle as a means of improving efficiency – 80% of your results come from 20% of your work. The same rule can apply to any area of your life including employee relations:

•    80% of the Tom’s work is great; 20% not great.
•    80% of the stress that you are feeling comes from 20% of Tom’s work
•    80% of tasks can be done by 20% of the staff

This allows you to put a positive spin on Tom’s output. If you only have to concentrate on 20% of Tom’s work, the improvement process is immediately reduced.

Communication is the key

Most coaching sessions come back to communication. There are two sides to the communication here. How you and Tom communicate with each other and how you communicate with yourself — your inner dialogue or ‘toxic thoughts’.

If you remember to communicate your expectations with Tom on a frequent basis the working relationship will be more open. When you are focussing on your thoughts remember to focus on the positive thoughts; 80% of Tom’s work is really great!


Meet the Coach
Eibhlin Johnston is the managing director of thinkCoaching, which works with business teams, executives, managers and self-employed professionals to help them discover their core strengths and create bottom line results. Her specialty area is talent retention of individual high performers.

Eibhlin has over 17 years experience in financial services and uses her past expertise to help business-owners. For more information visit or call 353 87 8583564. 



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