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Lead Your Team Leadership

Underperforming Employees? They Might Not Know What You Want

Underperforming Employees? They Might Not Know What You Want
Credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

Are your employees underperforming, or not giving you the results you expected? It might be because they don't know what you want from them.

A recent Gallup poll found that only half of employees worldwide strongly agree that they know what's expected of them at work, because managers aren't communicating their expectations frequently or well enough to their staff members.

"To free employees to take initiative and inspire high performance, managers need to set clear expectations, hold employees accountable for meeting them and respond quickly when employees need support," Marco Nink, senior practice expert at Gallup, wrote in an article about the poll. "But managers also should hold themselves accountable for meeting employees' performance needs."

To understand their managers' expectations, employees need to know when they're performing well and when they're not, Nink said — and it needs to be discussed more frequently than in an annual performance review. Leaders should help their teams structure their work and prioritize their tasks, as well as provide ongoing support, feedback and communication so employees always know whether they're doing what's expected, he wrote. [4 Common Communication Failures (And How to Fix Them)]

To accomplish this, managers should pay attention to what Nink defines as the three elements of employee performance:

  • Achievement: Establishing clear expectations and goals to give employees direction on what is expected of them, how much and when.
  • Accountability: Holding employees accountable for meeting expectations and providing regular measurement of, and feedback on, their performance.
  • Accessibility: Being approachable and responsive, listening to employees, and actively helping them solve the problems they encounter.

The more successful a leader is at fulfilling employees' needs in these areas, the more likely employees are to be engaged, Nink said. In a separate Gallup poll of German employees, respondents ranked their managers high in meeting their needs for accountability and accessibility — 71 percent said their manager is fully aware of their projects and tasks, and 65 percent communicate with their manager daily — but leaders fall flat in the "achievement" area. Just 32 percent of employees in that survey strongly agreed that their manager helps them set performance goals, and less than 40 percent said they feel their manager supports them in setting work priorities.

Stronger employee engagement and higher performance begin with meeting their "achievement" needs. By helping your staff set priorities and goals for their work, you enable them to take initiative and work autonomously, Nink said. Your staff will gain satisfaction from being involved in decisions about their work procedure.

"Employees who create their goals with their manager will follow through on them with more enthusiasm," Nink wrote. "If managers fail to meet employees' needs or to involve them in setting expectations, employees are less likely to be engaged — and their companies are less likely to reap the benefits of engagement."

Want to communicate with your employees better, to improve their performance? Check out this Business News Daily guide.

Nicole Fallon Taylor
Nicole Fallon Taylor

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.