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Start off Strong in the New Year! Build a Resilient and Adaptive Team

January 5, 2023

Are you ready to set up your teams and team members for success in 2023? This can feel daunting with so much external volatility and internal change underway. Proactively setting expectations and defining standards creates clarity and shines a light that helps individuals and teams deliver more and learn faster without burning out. This process reduces time and energy in reacting to performance issues and conflicts later on that could have been avoided. For remote or hybrid teams and workplaces, having a shared understanding of expectations and routines to review and learn proactively has never been more critical. 

Setting clear expectations and standards is a critical step and cadence for building a resilient and adaptive team. Consider these steps to get started…

Target the Right Opportunity

Most performance management systems focus on individuals. But most performance problems (e.g. large account sales, drug discovery, new process innovations) are solved in teams and across individuals. As you have limited time, figure out what your greatest opportunity is for impact.  In other words, where do you want to focus on setting clear expectations or defining standards? Is it for a functional team? A group of individuals? A project team? Start there.

Know Why you are Setting Expectations

Most formal performance management systems are used to allocate pay which tends to take over the purpose of the system itself. Ask yourself why you are setting expectations. Are you trying to improve performance for specific individuals? Do you want to accelerate learning in a team? Are you trying to motivate high performance in a group that is tired and feels stressed out? Knowing why you are doing motivates you to focus on how best to do it.  

Review Strategy & Goals

Before you can shine your light to the future with clear expectations and standards, step back to remind yourself what is most critical to your business, the teams you are a member of, and to yourself in the year ahead. Schedule 1-2 hours on your calendar and don’t let anyone disturb you. Take time to think about what most matters around you and how you can best impact the business, your teams, and your own career development.  Take a step back and ask how this initiative is contributing to a resilient, adaptive organization.

Set WHAT and HOW Expectations

The best expectations include both a “what” and a “how”.  What will be accomplished? This can be things like revenue targets, deadlines, or other deliverables, The how is related to how the expectation is to be delivered. This might include things like collaboration or innovation. The “how” is important to shape culture and values. Try to visualize success as if you were producing a video. Then document this like a story. In Produgie, we call these “100% Definitions” which are standards for what right looks like. 

Define Good vs. Great Standards

Define standards by level. If you have a 100% Definition, this is “great”. Now, what does good look like? Maybe this is your 75% Definition. The key is to use these standards to create a shared understanding of what “good” vs “great” looks like. When you have a discussion to refine good vs great standards, you also build commitment and help encourage the individual or team to strive while supporting them. 

Set Stretch Standards to Develop Others

Use stretch standards to help accelerate learning and development for an individual. This might make sense when they want to move into a bigger or more complex job, or their job is rapidly changing due to organizational transformation or rapid business growth. In these instances, define the standard for the future role and help the individual strive towards this. When stretching others, ensure they have enough support to not burn out. 

Use Dialogue to Agree and Build Ownership

Expectations and standards only have an impact when they have been mutually agreed. The best way to achieve this is with good dialogue. Good dialogue requires a safe environment and the balanced use of guidance and questioning. If you are the only one talking, this is a sign something is wrong. Set the agenda in advance and give everyone time to reflect before the discussion to encourage better participation and dialogue.

Proactively Align with Stakeholders

The more complex your business, the more people or groups you will have who have a vested interest in the performance of your teams or team members. When you invite them to get inputs to your expectations and standards, you might find it easier to get alignment with them. This will reduce conflict and wasted effort later on. In more individualistic cultures, individuals and teams will align directly with their own stakeholders. In more collectivistic cultures, managers may handle these alignment discussions. There is no right or wrong way. But it must happen. 

Deploy a Cadence to Monitor & Modify 

Now that you have mutually agreed on expectations and standards, you are ready to get the payoff. This happens when you create a cadence of regularly repeated meetings to check in on how things are going relative to the standards. In these conversations, always ask 2 questions: 1) How can you make progress towards your 100% in the next week/fortnight/month/quarter? 2) How can I best help you?

Give Great Feedback 

When you meet with individuals or teams to discuss progress, provide feedback against the expectations and standards. Avoid general personal feedback (e.g. “you are too direct” or “you are not direct enough) as this has less impact. Feedback on past & future performance helps you celebrate progress and motivate continued learning and improvement.

Let’s Get Going!

Setting clear expectations and standards across the business is a critical step and cadence for building a resilient and highly adaptive organization. When you take time to start the year off right, you enable everyone to go faster with less wasted effort. Get started strong by setting expectations, defining and mutually agreeing on what right looks like, aligning stakeholders with this and deploying a cadence to monitor progress and focus on the future. You don’t need to do this perfectly! As you build these skills it will become easier and take less time and effort to do it well and to multiply your impact. 

This article was written by Dr. Alison Eyring, Founder & CEO of Produgie. 

Produgie is software with embedded, proven IP and predictive intelligence that enables Adaptive Organizations. This article was inspired by the “Set Expectations” Sprint in Produgie. Produgie’s Sprint Engine enables leadership performance and development at every level of the organization. Try it for free:  www.produgie.com or ask us for a demo.

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