March 6, 2019

Perfectionists Rejoice! Relieving Anxieties Through Clear Workplace Expectations

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“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” -Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

As a perfectionist and a people pleaser, I think a lot about setting clear expectations with coworkers and colleagues. I’m not a naturally confrontational person. I was once ranked 2nd most likely to avoid confrontation out of a group of my colleagues in a leadership development course. And then I avoided bringing up that I felt called out by that quiz, so I guess there was some truth to it.

ALSO READ: Effective Performance Management: Tactics and Tools

The one cure I’ve found for combatting my perfectionism and my aversion to conflict is goal communication. Clear, positive communication about goals keeps me moving on projects, gives me permission to let a work publish even though I don’t feel like it’s complete, and doesn’t feel so much like conflict. And goal-centered communication ensures that I get timely feedback before I get so far down the creative rabbit hole that I’ve wasted a day or a month on a project that will just get axed anyway.

One way I get around this natural tendency to avoidance is by checking in on expectations with my manager and with my colleagues. When I’m afraid to bring up that an article is overdue or I’m waiting on someone else to provide me with something I’ve been promised, I try to remember Brené’s words: “Clear is kind.” I’m doing my colleague a favor by being clear.

There are lots of reasons why intentional and even documented clarity is important for a person like me. It helps me know where I stand. I can go back to those written goals and measure myself against them, rather than some nebulous idea of perfection. Clear and documented goals keep me from having to guess how other people are feeling. Otherwise, my go-to conclusion is that they hate me and are disappointed in my performance, even when the opposite is true.

Clarity makes me feel like I have control over my work. I can choose how to schedule my work day better. I can spend large chunks of time in deep work on projects because I’m not constantly watching my email.

I could talk all day about how my neuroses manifest in the workplace, but you came here for solutions. Here are the 5 lessons I’ve learned by setting expectations in the workplace.

1. Don’t wait until the yearly review.

If your company is only holding yearly employee reviews, you should probably work on getting those more often first, as employee expectations should be ongoing and should include both short term and long-term goals. What are you going to get done this week/month/quarter? Where do you want the team to be this year or in two years?

2. Discuss performance and behavior.

For most employees, setting difficult but attainable goals will motivate them to work consistently well, but remember that there are employees who need you to set behavior expectations. What are your company’s policies regarding personal phone calls, time spent on social media, or work done away from the desk? Answering these questions and opening these topics for discussion will help team members correct their own behavior before it becomes a problem.

3. Document everything.

This is where your performance management tool can come in handy. Spreadsheets and shared documents are a great way to start out, but performance management tools include reporting that can track goals and performance over time, plus they give C-levels access to aggregate performance for the entire company. And in the rare cases where performance doesn’t meet expectations, your performance management tool is the system of record for whatever next steps you need to take.

4. Set expectations early and visit them often.

Employee expectations are so important that they should be part of the interview process. Employees who ask what a typical day looks like in the role are actually asking what the expectation of behavior for that role is. But that shouldn’t be the end of the discussion. Have talks during training and during those first couple of weeks to correct behaviors that could become an issue later down the road and to reinforce positive behaviors.

Visit your expectations often. Visit them as often as is helpful or necessary for both parties. This might mean an hour-long one-on-one meeting once a week or informal prioritizing check-ins via your messaging app. Goals are meant to be measured, reviewed, and recalibrated based on changes in company strategy, workload, and personal needs. Think of them as fluid topics of conversation rather than a permanent, unchangeable guidepost. That said if there’s too much flexibility, goals and expectations don’t mean anything.

5. Celebrate successes, seek to understand failures.

How we react to performance measurements is nearly as important as the measurements themselves. We’re all adults here, so punishments aren’t really necessary except in extreme cases, like zero tolerance and termination-worthy offenses. Instead, provide incentives to go above and beyond the goals, rather than taking away from the employee.

TechnologyAdvice can help.

We can’t have the conversations with your employees and colleagues for you (sorry!), but we can help you find the tools to document and facilitate your goal setting. Visit our performance management product selection tool and get fast, free recommendations based on your company’s HR needs. You can also call one of our Tech Advisors at 877.822.9526 for a free, 5-minute consultation. You’ll come away with a list of 5 performance management tools that could help your team today.