Set clear expectations to boost productivity, engagement

by Michael Mata12 Oct 2016
A new study by Gallup indicates that most workers are looking for more precise directions from their employers. Co-authored by Brandon Rigoni and Bailey Nelson, the study argued that setting expectations is a foundational element of employee engagement.

Only about one-third (33%) of US workers are actively engaged at work – and that figure has hardly changed in more than a decade. More worryingly, only 13% of workers worldwide are actively engaged at work.

"Expectations, or a lack thereof, have the power to make or break worker engagement," the co-authors wrote. "Even if employees feel energised and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can't advance key initiatives to create value for an organisation."

In contrast, companies staffed with highly engaged employees reap greater benefits. Gallup’s latest meta-analysis indicates that business units in the top quartile of employee engagement are 21% more profitable, are 17% more productive, have 10% better customer ratings, experience 41% less absenteeism, and suffer 70% fewer safety incidents compared with business units in the bottom quartile.

So what’s the secret to engaging workers? While no single element among the 12 elements of employee engagement is of chief importance, the Gallup researchers believe that setting clear expectations may be the most foundational element.

The Gallup researchers gave actionable tips to help superiors set clear expectations with their workers:
  • Develop expectations collaboratively. Superiors need to collaborate with their workers to establish clear role expectations. Using this approach, workers are more likely to own their expectations and succeed.
  • Articulate expectations clearly. To avoid confusion, superiors should discuss expectations openly with each employee and be crystal clear about their expectations.
  • Hold top performers as examples to emulate. Managers can bring out the very best in each employee by talking about what top performers do differently and then setting expectations based on those best-in-class behaviours.
  • Tap into their strengths. Employees are less engaged and successful when they’re forced to work on tasks they lack interest or proficiency in. When managers help workers identify their innate strengths and then position them to use those talents at work, employee performance and engagement improve dramatically.