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Setting Clear Expectations and Giving Employees Feedback


Effective leaders find ways to clearly communicate expectations and give feedback to their employees on a regular basis.

Manager Giving FeedbackOne way you’ll demoralize employees is by failing to tell them what they are accountable for, how (and whether) they are meeting expectations, how they can improve, and the consequences if they do/don’t.

Following below is a simple worksheet you can use to use in setting expectations with employees and giving feedback. The elements of the worksheet include:


Setting expectations for staff should cover not just performance, but also how you want him or her to communicate with you (e.g., every other week in a meeting, as needed by walking into your office, by e-mail every day), and your expectations about behavior and professionalism (e.g., treating support staff with more courtesy and respect). 

How the employee is meeting your expectations, citing specific, recent examples.

 Tell the person what he or she is doing well.

How the employee is not meeting your expectations (if appropriate), citing specific recent examples.

It is essential to focus on behaviors that can be measured, and that are specific. "You are sloppy," is not appropriate. "The proposal you presented as ready for delivery has numerous spelling and math errors." is better.

Corrective Action

What (if anything) you want the employee to do differently, and by when.

 If you don’t tell an employee specifically what you want him or her to do differently, you probably won’t see much change. Therefore, it is important to provide specific advice about how you want the employee to change.

For instance, the following statement provides specific advice: "Going forward, it is important that you be sure there are no errors in any proposals you create for customers—whatever it takes."  It’s also a very good idea to follow up such feedback with an e-mail or memo to reinforce and provide a document the employee can reference for clarity.


What happens if the employee does or doesn’t improve—in terms that matter to the individual (if appropriate).

Most employees change their behavior when they understand the manager’s expectations. However, some employees need incentives to change. Incentives should be appropriate for the situation (i.e., it would be extreme to say, "If you are one minute late again, I will fire you.").

You can offer positive incentives, such as spending time helping on a project, or providing additional tools to help the employee succeed, and offering more challenging assignments when performance improves; or negative incentives, such as not covering for the employee’s mistakes, decreasing his or her responsibilities, and increasing the level of inspection.

An offer of support.

Most employees want to do well but sometimes the lack tools or resources to get the job done. By asking how you can help the employee succeed, and listening, you can create an environment that breeds effective performance.


There are many ways of setting expectations for employees and to give feedback.  Do so in a way that is authentic and appropriate for the situation. For instance, sometimes you can start with an offer of support — especially when performance has just begun to slip: "I've noticed that in the last few weeks you've had forecasted sales get delayed. You're usually really accurate. What can I do to help you?" Similarly, sometimes you don’t need to offer incentives; you know that feedback alone will influence the employee to improve.

Some leaders meet weekly or bi-weekly to formally review progress. Others rely on teachable moments—live situations to model effective skills or behavior, or to use as case studies. Whatever the format, and however frequently, employees should have a clear understanding of what you expect, and how you think they are doing.  Sometimes all you need to do is tell the employee to keep doing more of the same.

Use the following worksheet as a guideline.

What I expect:

  • Specific (measurable and time-lined) outcomes and performance.
  • How you should communicate with me and keep me informed.
  • Your professionalism and behavior.

How you are meeting my expectations, and specific recent examples to prove it.

How you are not meeting my expectations, with examples.*

What you are expected to do differently, and by when.*

  • What happens when you do.*
  • What happens if you don’t.*

How can I support you in making this change?*

* If appropriate

Copyright © 2011 The Decisive Edge, LLC. All rights reserved.

Train Managers to Coach to develop leadership skills in setting clear expectations, giving feedback, and developing employees.  Also, for more insights on employee performance, download our partner report, Why Smart Employees Underperform.

Adapted by The Decisive Edge, LLC with permission from Elegant Leadership and The Center for Executive Coaching.


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