Performance Manage People

by Paula Newton

Setting and managing expectations

As well as setting very specific goals and objectives for work tasks, there is a broader category of targets that could be called general behavioural expectations. Every company will have both explicit rules around behaviour, perhaps enshrined in an employees’ handbook, and implicit rules that are part of the company culture, or ‘how we do things around here’.

On a personal level, each of us has different ideas about what is acceptable and what isn’t. This applies to behaviour in the office, just as it does to any other area. It is therefore critical to effective performance management that you set clear expectations, so that staff work to standards and within set guidelines.

Communicating expectations

Essential to success in this area is communication. Managers must communicate desired standards to their teams. If expectations are not explained to staff in a clear way, they will not understand and therefore not abide by set standards. The communication of expectations in a simple and open manner is the best way to avoid misinterpretations and confusion.

Staff who are not clear about expectations upfront are more difficult to manage. If, for example, a team member does not realise that they need to request time off work before booking their holiday flights, and if they lose money as a result of that – especially if this requirement has not been communicated to them – they are likely to become resentful, difficult. They will perform less effectively than those who were clear to begin with about expectations and procedures and could therefore follow them.

Many of these expectations and expected behaviours will be documented in a staff handbook or manual. As a manager, it is essential that you understand the content of the manual, so that you are endorsing company policies. If there is no handbook, or if a particular matter is not covered, you may be sure that your staff will have some sort of expectation surrounding it, as part of their psychological contract, and you need to be aware of this.

I won’t accept anything less than the best a player’s capable of doing, and he has the right to expect the best that I can do for him and the team.

Lou Holtz

If you are to communicate desired behaviour successfully, it is equally important that you, as the manager, must also follow these same standards. For example, if you ask your people not to use instant messenger (MSN, for example) in the office and they then see you using it, either they will start to lose respect for you or they will think that the standard no longer applies, and will start using the service too. Managers should behave in the way that they want their staff to act and little should be left to the imagination in this area.

Explicit expectations

Some of the major areas where behavioural expectations should be set explicitly are outlined below.


It is a good idea to keep records of staff sickness – in other words, dates and reasons given. Staff should be clear about when they should call in, whom they should call and what general level of sickness is acceptable. This is a common problem area, as some will struggle into work regardless, while others will take time off work at the first sign of a sniffle. If you keep records of staff absence, it is possible to prevent problems from getting out of hand.

Problem people are not the ones who take four weeks off with an exceptional one-off illness, such as shingles or a broken leg. People that need managing more closely are those who begin, over time, to take a day or two (or more) off each month for minor ailments. Once such a pattern starts to emerge, it is essential to talk with the member in staff in question as soon as possible, to find out why it is happening and prevent it continuing. Not dealing with issues like this head-on can cause managers to be seen as ineffective by the rest of the team and may result in others behaving in the same way (see Attendance Management).


People have to go to the doctors, the dentist or the bank and they will have other essential appointments from time to time. Occasional appointments during working hours are a fact of life. However, staff should be clear about behavioural expectations relating to appointments. If people are expected to make up time taken out of the office for their appointments, they need to be informed. They also need to know that it is good business practice, for example, to make appointments as early or as late as possible in the working day, to minimise absence. Advance notice of appointments should also be given, so that appropriate cover can be arranged. Failing to set expectations in this area can lead to frustration for managers, as staff don’t behave in the desired way.


If lateness becomes a regular event then it is a problem. If start times are fixed, then staff need to understand that they have to turn up on time and that it is not acceptable for start times to creep to 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes late every day. As with sickness, records can be kept of this behaviour. With this information, it is possible to talk to the member of staff about the problem that they are having with their timekeeping and ask if there are any reasons for it. If it’s happening because the train has been turning up late every day or the traffic has been worse than usual then, simply put, they just need to leave home earlier. As their manager, you should be clear about this. If it is possible to be flexible with the employee about their start and end time, moving their hours slightly, and if that is convenient for everyone, this could be a very effective way to deal with this performance issue.

Annual leave

Another area where a process is required in order to effectively manage the performance of staff concerns their holiday time. Perhaps only a set number of people can be off work at any one time in order to maintain effective performance of the team?

Whatever system you have in operation, you need to bear in mind the fact that staff might call in sick, so resources should be planned accordingly.

Managers need to make the rules clear about several matters:

  • How many days can individuals take off work at any one time?
  • How is leave authorised?
  • When can leave not be taken?
  • How far in advance do you need to be informed?

Staff should be aware that leave is not automatically authorised and that they should not book and pay for their holiday first and request the time off from work later, as this may lead to disappointment.

Other areas

Other areas where behavioural expectation setting is important include

  • Company equipment – for example, allowable use of company mobile telephones
  • Expected on-call behaviour – for example, no drinking alcohol and being accessible by telephone
  • Breaks – for example, how long is allowed for lunch and when can that break be taken?
  • Expenses – for example, what can be claimed and what can’t, and by when should claims be made?
  • Office conduct – for example, no IM in the office, limited personal calls and polite behaviour
  • Remote working – for example, being accessible by telephone or online, and the desired reporting on progress
  • Attire – for example, when in a customer-facing role or meeting clients, is a suit required?

See the topic on Psychological Contracts.