‘I’m so disappointed,’ said one of my CEOs as their opening statement in a conversation last week. ‘My exec team are just not stepping up the way they need to, the way that I need them to. I’m getting really frustrated. Not only that, the board is also starting to notice, and so I’m getting pressure from them too.’
I started to break this down with my CEO client, to really understand what was going on.
It became clear that the individual leaders on the executive team were not reaching the expectations of the CEO. There was an obvious gap between how they were operating, and performing, the progress they were making, and their level of competence, compared to the expectation of where the CEO wanted them to be performing and operating.
What also became clear when I asked the CEO about it, was the CEO was not confident that these executives, their own direct reports, really understood with clarity the CEO’s expectations.
How fair is it to judge someone’s performance against a set of expectations they are not aware of?
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a unique situation. This happens too often.
It is quite easy for people, a CEO for example, to assume that their expectations have been conveyed to their direct reports.
Yet, it may be that over time these leaders have not received feedback often enough, or with sufficient clarity, about their performance versus the expectations. Maybe there was a predecessor in the CEO role who has not shared sufficient feedback about true performance. Maybe the feedback has been ‘you are performing well or satisfactorily or above average,’ because it was an easier conversation, than ‘you are not performing well enough.’ Maybe the expectations have changed over time and the measure of effective performance has changed, yet not been communicated well to the individual executives.
Or what I observe is often the case, there was no expectations conversation in the first place.
There are many ways to find yourself in a situation where disappointment occurs. Where the expectation of performance or behaviour is not being met.
I also observe that often the disappointment in their performance comes as a complete surprise to the individual executives.
Not a great situation for anyone involved.
If this is the situation you face, when is the best time to address this?
I suggest, as soon as possible.
If you need your executives to perform at a higher level, if you need them to develop their leadership, if you need them to operate more effectively, more productively, more engagingly, then you need to let them know, so they have the choice. Give them the opportunity to develop themselves, give them the opportunity to enhance their performance, the opportunity to grow into more mature, more effective, more capable leaders.
If you do not communicate your expectations, how reasonable is it to expect people to meet your expectations?
Save yourself the disappointment and be clear about the expectations at the earliest opportunity.
It can be as simple as describing their role to the leader, and then describing what you need from your direct report in their role. Not only the ‘what’ they deliver, but also ‘how’ they deliver it.
Then you can ask each of them what they need in order to perform at this level, or what they may need to develop so they are able to perform at the expected level.
This is not rocket science.
The implications though when you do not do it can be very far reaching. Making your job as CEO that much more difficult.
My challenge to you is to share your expectations with your direct reports early and often, so you are all on the same page. They know what is expected so they can deliver on it, and they can ask for help if they need it. You avoid frustration and disappointment. You have a group of people who understand what you need from them, which means you too are better positioned to deliver in your role as the organisation’s leader.
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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