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These two questions may sound simple, but they are often not answered in a manner that helps to generate sustainable, high quality performance. These questions apply to paid work, to volunteer jobs - even to the instructions you give your children at home. What is the standard, and how will everyone know whether or not the standard is being met?
Setting the performance standard
You need data to be able to set a performance standard, so if you are a startup you won't be able to know enough to establish all of them from the very beginning. There can be values standards that guide behavior, like you commit to respond to inquiries within 48 hours. But you won't know, for instance, what volume of sales is reasonable per employee until you have some experience under your belt.
Once you have gathered a large enough sample size you can set a reasonable target. When you are setting performance standards, if you make them so high that only super performers can reach them you'll create frustration and demotivation in your staff. If you low-ball it, you create a haven for folks who are phoning it in.
It's important to be specific when setting standards. "Make your bed" may mean "throw the covers in a heap on top of your bed," or it may mean "I want it to be tucked in so tightly that a quarter will bounce off of it!" If you assume that you all agree on what good performance is, you're setting up a preventable future reprimand. Don't make them read your mind.
If you set no performance standards, your employees will be trying to hit a moving target. You will be placing yourself at risk of a discrimination complaint if it's perceived that one employee is being treated better or worse than his or her peers. And having no solid performance standard means that your team members will live in continual fear of a reprimand from you.When you're having a bad day and looking for a dog to kick, there they will be with only your immediate emotional reaction to define whether their performance is laudable or sub-par.
Providing useful feedback
Your employees need feedback on results, and they also need feedback on methods. Especially when the cycle time for a process is longer or the employee is relatively new and inexperienced, interim feedback helps them stay engaged and motivated. You create a contract of sorts with them when you establish performance standards. You let employees know whether you'll be looking only at results or whether you'll be looking at their methods too. Sometimes both matter, and sometimes it's only the results that are important.
Either way, you provide feedback based upon the expectations that were set and communicated. Otherwise you can't hold the individual accountable. If they didn't know what was expected they couldn't be expected to engage in the behavior to fulfill your expectations.
Time is often an issue in providing feedback. How do you allocate a spot for it in your crazy-busy schedule? One method that works is to have regularly scheduled one on ones with your direct reports. That way you can keep notes on performance feedback and know that you'll be having the opportunity to share it when you get together with them for your regular meeting. They can also keep notes and/or questions they want to ask you, reducing the number of interruptions you have to manage in the course of the day and week.
Of course if a significant course correction is needed, immediacy is important. If you let a problem simmer you'll run the risk of making it worse. In addition, your frustration will mount as the problem continues, making it more difficult for you to provide feedback to the employee without feeling angry or frustrated with them. Poor performance due to lack of standards and lack of feedback isn't on them - it's on you, their leader.
Perhaps the best form of performance feedback is the sort that the employee can see for himself or herself. If SMART goals are set and action steps defined, employees can measure progress against them. If data is made available to employees, they can see for themselves how they and the company are doing. This self-evident performance feedback helps keep you out of "parent evaluator" role and helps employees own the process. They may even generate their own performance standards (higher than the ones already set) as they challenge themselves to stretch and aim for continuous improvement.