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Most employees work in the dark. Here’s what they don’t know (but we still expect them to bring to their work):

  1. The vision, mission or purpose of the business — in terms they can understand.
  2. The specific performance expectations of their role — and how it fits into the larger company picture.
  3. A definition of their performance expectations — so they have a performance standard to achieve.

We are in a constant discussion about how to engage our employees, how to inspire them to show up and do great things at work. Some of today’s top thinkers on workplace behavior suggest we need to change to performance-based incentive plans, give employees more autonomy, provide more choice about how work is done, or increase contact with management. All of these ideas are good ones, but what employees need most is clarity. Clarity about the business, clarity about what is expected of them and clarity around what successful performance looks like.

I spend most of my days working with organizations or coaching its managers and employees. I always ask employees these three questions when I meet them:

  1.      What is it that you do here?
  2.      How do you know when your job is done right?
  3.      How does your job or role make a difference to this business?

I compare the responses I get in the first question above to what management thinks the job does. Surprise! Most responses don’t align. I generally get a shrug or “I don’t hear from my boss” as the answer to number two. And I usually get a long pause and a “no one has ever asked me that before” response to third question.

Work is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. It is either impossible or inefficient to complete if you don’t know the image you are trying to create. With a clear understanding of the image, you can assess which pieces go where and how to watch the pieces make the image come together.

To provide a clearer picture to encourage greater employee performance:

  • Spend time with employees and share the mission, vision and beliefs of the business very clearly. There is much research supporting that employee performance rises as employees personally share the value of the business. Be sure employees know what and why the business does what it does. 
  • Directly define the specific performance expectations of the job. Be precise, then work with the employee to develop the process to achieve the expectations. Knowing what has to be done encourages employees to be efficient and effective in their work. If this is unclear, they tend to wander, get easily distracted, create excuses or become disengaged.
  • Share what a job or task “done right” looks like. Sharing the performance standard, as well as the expectation, will help the employee focus on a specific outcome. By creating a standard, everyone shares the same definition of success.

I know we are all busy, but taking some time every week to ensure employees know the answers to these three questions (and that they align with managements expectations) will dramatically improve an employee’s clarity. This, outside of hiring for fit, is the greatest way to impact the engagement level of an employee.

After all, who can be efficient, effective or extraordinary when they are working in the dark?

Photo: Can Stock