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  • Writer's pictureElvira Tapler

Communicating Performance Expectations

Renee Magritte in his 1929 painting ‘The Treachery of Images’ cleverly highlights the gap between language and the meaning. Magritte’s painting states in French: It’s not a pipe. Indeed, it is an oil canvas painting which represents our idea of a pipe. Similarly, Alfred Korzybski, an independent scholar who developed the field of semantics, said “the map is not the territory”.

How can we take these concepts and apply them to employee performance? First, if we asked different individuals to define success, achievement, quality work, effective communication, or performance excellence, individuals would respond differently based on their lived experiences and expectations. When we communicate with others, we often assume their interpretation of concepts is fairly similar to ours. Typically, it is not the case. Therefore, to minimize the gap between language and interpretation, employers can communicate performance expectations to employees in the context of their specific roles, organization’s strategic goals, values, and belief systems. This communication should occur during onboarding, day-to-day interactions, periodic performance check-ins and stay interviews.

Second, it is critical for employees to understand early in the employment relationship which dimensions of performance are being measured, what distinguishes various ratings, and what specifically employees can do to place themselves on the best performance continuum. Communication between employees and supervisors throughout the year can facilitate the necessary adjustments from both sides and will result in a more ‘expected’ and meaningful annual performance appraisal process.

The accountability for initiating communication is shared by supervisors and employees. In organizations with a strong culture of empowerment, employees are encouraged to be proactive in their pursuit of new skills, experiences, and career mobility. In those organizations employees are more likely to show more initiative, seek out supervisor’s feedback, and clarify performance expectations.

Lastly, the goal is for employers to be clear about performance expectations, so there is no gap between the language and the meaning. Once employees know what is expected and how they can enrich their skills and experiences, they have the best opportunities to engage, rise and achieve success. In other words, employees and their performance should not be confused with the performance management process. The process is a model and is not the employee’s performance.

If your organization is looking to establish a robust performance management program or rejuvenate your existing one, Integra HR LLC is here to help! Our consultants provide comprehensive boutique HR solutions ranging from building the HR team, talent acquisition and onboarding support to performance management, employee relations, workplace investigations, and so much more. Please check out our services page for more information.


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