Unmet expectations for performance and behavior are likely the greatest stressor for most if not all supervisors. A failure to meet animal or crop goals, arriving late for work and skipping an assigned task are all examples of unmet expectations.
Unmet expectations must be addressed
Think about what you do when your cows, crops, machinery or even finances do not meet your expectations. Almost without exception, you identify the problem and make changes to move back toward your expectations.
Now think about what you do when people – employees, partners, even family members – do not meet expectations. Again, almost without exception, you are slower to act. Why? There are two answers to this important question.
First, people have emotions – feelings. Often, you do not act because you do not want to hurt the feelings of the employee, partner, family member. You may also be concerned about how they might react, including with disagreement, frustration, even anger. Your own emotions also are important to your hesitation. You are often uncertain, stressed, even scared that this may become a confrontation rather than a discussion or a collaboration.
Second, you are confident and feel in control when dealing with animals, crops, machinery and finances. With people issues, you often feel you have much less expertise and experience. Also, the outcome is less certain and potentially more explosive, so you do not feel you are in control of the situation.
Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of the employee and the farm business. What are you doing when you do not address unmet expectations with employees, partners and family members? This may sound a little harsh, but it is the reality: You are allowing, and even enabling, them to fail. Failure is not good for individuals, as it reduces self-confidence, stymies learning and increases stress. It is also not good for your business as you are allowing performance or behavior that does not meet expectations.
The bottom line is that addressing unmet expectations by employees, partners, and family members is just as important – perhaps even more important – than addressing unmet expectations with animals, crops, machinery and finances.
Two questions to determine whether to provide redirection or negative feedback
As you may recall, the two feedback choices for failure to meet expectations are:
- Redirection: Failure to perform was caused by the situation or the context of the performance – lack of training, ineffective supervision, unpredictable circumstances, unreasonable expectations.
- Negative: The situation cannot explain the failure; the failure to perform can only be explained by the employee’s personal characteristics – motivation, effort, commitment.
It is essential to determine the root cause of an unmet expectation to choose redirection or negative feedback. Thus, the first question is: What is the root cause of the unmet expectations?
There is a second question that will enhance the root-cause analysis. The question is: What did I do, or more likely did not do, that contributed to the unmet expectation? Asking this question is important because of how we function as human beings. Human nature bestows in us a tendency to blame others rather than ourselves for errors in their performance or behavior – unmet expectations. (This is so crucial that in organizational behavior it is called the fundamental theorem of attribution.)
Asking, “What did I do or not do that contributed to the unmet expectation?” helps us overcome this human tendency to blame the other person. If items or actions are identified, that pretty much determines that redirection feedback will be the correct feedback choice. It is also likely that a good start has been made on root-cause analysis.
Asking the "what did I do" question first, followed by the root-cause question, increases the likelihood of using redirection feedback. This will reduce the likelihood of misusing negative feedback and creating a situation where the employee feels he or she is being treated unfairly.
Redirection feedback is redirecting to meet expectations – success
We use redirection feedback when the unmet expectation was caused by the situation or the context of the performance – lack of training, ineffective supervision, unpredictable circumstances, unreasonable expectations. The goal then is to improve performance without damaging the relationship with the employee. Providing redirection feedback, however, is not easy as employees easily interpret it as negative feedback (that is the other part of the fundamental theorem of attribution). None of us want to hear that our performance is lacking.
The following should help you provide excellent redirection feedback:
- Begin with and include positive feedback on positive efforts and expectations met or exceeded.
- Communicate, without blaming, that performance is not acceptable. This is often difficult to communicate. Measurement makes the deficiency clearer and easier to communicate.
- Emphasize that the individual is not at fault. The situation was the cause of the unacceptable performance. It is often difficult to convey that this is not a reprimand. Your employee will likely have at least some negative reactions. Work to keep this short lived and to reduce the employee’s defensiveness.
- Provide the required changes in the situation – skills learned, knowledge gained, behaviors changed, actions taken, resources provided, expectations adjusted – to enable “successful” performance.
- Redirect to succeed.
Because employees rarely make mistakes intentionally, redirection is the likely outcome of our root-cause analysis. Redirection feedback allows employees to learn from their mistakes without damage to the relationship and to their self-confidence that occurs with negative feedback.
Negative feedback is about providing the employee a choice
Negative feedback is only appropriate when the root cause shows that the situation cannot explain the failure; the failure to perform can only be explained by the employee’s personal characteristics – motivation, effort, commitment. The employee must change.
Negative feedback should not be thought of as a reprimand. Instead, it should be thought of as providing a choice. The choice is to make the required change to correct the performance issue or incur a pre-specified consequence. The severity of the consequences is increased when the employee does not correct the performance issue.
A final comment
I want to end by repeating and encouraging you to especially work on these two points: 1) Unmet people expectations must be addressed immediately, and 2) begin by asking what did I do or not do that contributed to the unmet expectation?