Divided by a common language? Training leaders to set performance expectations

divided by a common language

Are we divided by a common language?

I’ve been reviewing 360-degree feedback with senior leaders this week as a starting point to their coaching programmes. And it made me realise that, while behavioural frameworks are valuable tools, they’re not enough to set performance expectations.  And then this made me think about what can go wrong when people interpret things differently. Are we divided by a common language?

One of the leaders I was working with was dismayed to discover that his manager’s view of his performance was significantly lower than his own – especially in the areas of execution and delivery.

My client is a global organisation.  Like many big companies, they have put a lot of work into defining behavioural frameworks. Their purpose is to make sure employees at all levels know what the organisation expects of them to live according to the company’s values and deliver the long-term vision.

It is those frameworks that form the basis of the 360-degree feedback.

Behavioural frameworks are the basis for 360-degree feedback

One area that took up much of my discussion with this particular leader was around the behaviour category “Passion for Results”. And specifically his responses to the question, “Acts with a sense of urgency”.

The leader felt he acted with a sense of urgency to a very great extent; his manager felt he acted with a sense of urgency to a small extent.

So what’s going on here?

Is it that the leader has different standards to his manager?

Is it that his manager values it more than he does?

Is it that he has an unrealistically positive view of himself?

Or – is it the that leader’s understanding of “Acting with a sense of urgency” differs from that of his manager?

In reality, it could be a combination of all those things. But the last point is the one I want to focus on.

What effect does differing a viewpoint have on feedback?

No matter how sophisticated and customised a behavioural framework is, it is generic by nature. It applies to many roles, geographies, levels and functions.

The behavioural descriptions on their own are not enough to set clear expectations of performance.

To be meaningful they need to be brought to life for an individual’s role. Employees and their managers need to develop a rich picture of what success looks like in specific, detailed, observable activities.

For the leader I was working with, he now needs the answers to the questions:

“Suppose…in a perfect world…I was acting with a sense of urgency to a very great extent what would I be doing? What would the manager notice? What would my direct reports notice? What would my colleagues notice? What would internal and external customers notice?”

Behavioural frameworks are just a tool. To be effective in establishing performance expectations, managers and leaders need the training to have conversations that allow them to use the tool skilfully and effectively.

How effective are your managers and leaders at setting performance expectations? I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and challenges.


3 thoughts on “Divided by a common language? Training leaders to set performance expectations”

  1. Reallt interestng i agree with you we just did some training on having difficult conversations with staff which has been really useful. managers should justify their scores with examples.

    1. That’s absolutely right Kully. That’s also why I find it helpful to use actors when I train managers to have performance discussions. They can really bring it to life and provide invaluable practice and feedback.

  2. Great blog and timely for me as I go into some 360 debriefs this week and we have a values roll out with a different client. I think half the issue is that companies believe they “should” have behavioural frameworks, spend lots of time working them up and then heave a sigh of relief when it’s done. But as you illustrate here, the work is usually only half done. The context and richness is missed and that is where the problems arise come review time.
    Perhaps the best we can expect in these days of lean resource in OD/HR, is that the first round of reviews after the framework is put in place is seen as a range finder. That the conversations that take place between the managers and the people being reviewed help create the context that HR were never going to be able to provide.

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