No Surprises!

Rule #1 of Performance Management

Brett was excited about his upcoming 90-day performance review. He knew he had gotten off to a rough start, missing some deadlines and overlooking some important details. But the goals his supervisor, No surprises - clear performance management targetsSherry, had set for the last month were reasonable, and Brett had hit them all. He felt like he had finally hit the stride for success in his job.

So it was quite a shock when Sherry rated his performance as “Unsatisfactory”! How could that be when he had hit all of his goals? Sherry said she was trying to set goals to stretch him to grow, but his “beginner goals” were a fraction of what he really needs to be able to produce. So she raised the bar for the next month with tighter schedules and fewer errors. She even added new goals for things he didn’t know about before.  Brett wondered if he could ever be successful in this role.

Blindness Isn’t Kindness

It may be appropriate to set lower goals for a newbie, but it needs to be clear whether that goal is an interim milestone or the end goal. Likewise, if you will determine success by ten criteria, spell out all ten up front even if the “break-in” period is only going to measure three of them.

Everyone – whether a new employee or a veteran – should have a clear picture of what success looks like in their role. If the nature of the role involves constantly moving targets, tell them up front that their success will be measured by being able to hit constantly moving targets. That will energize some people and frustrate others. You want to have the right kind of person in that role.

Clarity Starts in Hiring

That’s why the conversation about how success will be measured needs to start in the hiring process. Even if the candidate has the right hard skills, you want to know before you offer the job whether this person has the right wiring and motivations for the role. If you have high turnover within the first 90 days, the problem isn’t the candidates, it’s your hiring process. Clearly defining the success criteria for a candidate, the path to get there, and the culture they’ll be operating in gives them the opportunity to self-select out if they’re not up for the challenge. That saves you the trouble and expense of terminating them later.


Creating clarity and managing expectations should start with the job posting, continue through the interview process, to the job description, and throughout the on-going performance management process. Every document and every step in the process should contribute to the employee’s understanding of what you expect of them. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t look at these together and things get out of sync. Frustrated and confused employees are the result.

If you want your organization to stand out as a great place to work, try giving your employees a clear picture of success and how to achieve it.

© 2023 enLumen Leadership Services

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