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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  The clarity principle

The clarity principle

Why managers and employees are sometimes not on the same page, and how to set realistic expectations



What people really want from their jobs, and what their bosses think employees want, may not be the same. Human resource (HR) consultancy Towers Watson recently conducted two complementary studies—the ‘2014 Global Workforce Study’ of 32,000 employees across 26 countries, and the ‘2014 Global Talent Management And Rewards Study’, for which it interviewed 1,637 organizations across 31 nations—to understand, and possibly address, this mismatch in expectations.

The reports threw up some interesting data. For instance, only 52% of the employees surveyed thought their companies did a good job of explaining their pay programmes, and only 27% would ask their manager for help if they felt overworked or stressed.

We spoke to HR experts and managers on how companies and employees can reduce the chances of a mismatch in expectations, from the time a job is advertised to when tenured employees seek to grow within the organization.

Send out a clear vibe

A mismatch in expectations between the organization and employees can possibly be averted when a job opening is announced. Send out a strong signal to the talent market about who you are as an organization and what you stand for, advises Prof. Hayagreeva Rao, Atholl McBean professor of organizational behaviour and HR at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, US, and author of ‘Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less’.

In a phone interview, Prof. Rao shares the example of Chick-fil-A, the US-based chicken sandwich retailer which signals its focus on Christian religious elements by remaining closed on Sundays, and in the language it uses. “For example, you don’t have a job at Chick-fil-A, you have a mission," he says. This way, only candidates with similar values are likely to apply for a job in your company.

Give the context upfront

HR managers routinely share their expectations of a role in the job description (JD) before an employee is even hired. A generic or vague JD can create confusion.

Roopa Kochhar, director, HR, at JLT India, a unit of the UK-headquartered actuarial consultancy firm Jardine Lloyd Thompson, says one way to add clarity to the document is to give candidates the larger context around the role. This, she says, includes “where the role sits in the organization from, say, L1 to L5 (L1 being the highest level of leadership), who the person would report to, how many people they would manage, which business function they would be a part of, and the context of the team within the organization".

At JLT India, Kochhar says, there is a “library" of 120 unique jobs. These JDs act as a base line to communicate the role of the future employee, and are revised and refined each time to meet the current expectations of the line manager before being advertised.

Get a buy-in on the hiring

A little thoughtfulness early on in the hiring process can go a long way in avoiding a mismatch in expectations later. Nishchae Suri, head of people and change at consultancy firm KPMG India, says: “The first 30 days after an individual joins are crucial for welcoming them, and setting clear expectations. There are many misses at this stage."

Suri gives the example of a new senior-level hire. Say, they have been selected by two out of five people in the organization who have a stake in the hiring decision. The joinee might feel she has met everyone who’s important at the interview stage—“this is called the circle of influence". But there is also the risk that the other executives might not share a great chemistry with her after the hiring decision has been made.

The way out: The hiring manager can get the buy-in of all executives who have a stake in the hiring decision, and mention them to the candidate during the interview process. “It isn’t essential that the candidate meet everyone. Introduce the other executives by name and speak about them to the candidate," Suri says.

For a good start

Maneesha Jha Thakur, group head, HR, Edelweiss Financial Services Ltd, says that at the induction stage, the conversation about expectations is between the organization and the new joinee. This is in contrast to the many conversations around expectations that the manager and reportee will continually have thereafter—in morning meetings, periodic reviews and discussions around career path and remuneration.

In this conversation with new employees at Edelweiss, Jha Thakur focuses on sharing with them the organizational history and culture, the company’s guiding principles and policies, and talking to them about the company’s plans and what the business wants to achieve. This helps set expectations in terms of work environment, values, what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in the organization, and learning and growth opportunities within the company. Jha Thakur adds that individual key result areas (KRAs) can be set as late as 60 days after the employee has joined, to give them time to understand how work gets done within the organization, and how they might fit into that scheme.

All in a day’s work

Every day employees and managers set expectations for what they want to achieve—in that workday or week, from a meeting or a project. If managers and employees are not on the same page on the desired outcomes, it can lead to frustration and disengagement.

“There are umpteen reasons why this can happen in any organization, one of them can be the structure of the organization," says Divakar Kaza, president, HR, at pharma firm Lupin Ltd. “Remember, each one in an organization is accountable to a different measure of performance and to different stakeholders. Hence, you and your boss may not pay attention to or respond to the same things because you don’t hold the same position in the organization. Another reason can be the lack of trust/confidence in each other’s capabilities. Several situations can lead you to this perspective…. Another interesting lookout to this problem can be when boss and subordinate are mismatched in ethics, values and integrity, chances are that there will be some mismatch in expectations," he adds.

The manager is the pivot

Mankind Pharma Ltd’s corporate HR manager Pradip P. Sachdeva says the successful management of expectations—the employee’s, manager’s and organization’s—pivots on the manager’s ability to do his job well. “The manager is a strategic contributor," says Sachdeva. The manager takes a call on which projects to do herself and which ones to delegate. For this, she needs to know the strengths of her direct reportees and have confidence in their abilities. She should be able to communicate clearly what the task is, and offer material support. “The delegation end loop includes giving encouragement during the task and feedback afterwards," says Sachdeva.

The chances of achieving the desired outcome improve if managers tell employees why a task is important, says Intikhab Wani, vice-president and HR head (India and Sri Lanka), at biopharmaceutical services provider Quintiles. He says showing employees the “big picture" can help them do their job better by shifting the focus from simply following a set of guidelines to getting the job done.

Sachdeva agrees: “You could be passing on a responsibility as small as filing documents. Unless you explain why those papers are important to you and what information you might need to retrieve from them later, it will lead to frustration on both sides eventually. Like when you need the papers, you might find a hole made by the punching machine right over the critical information."

The paperwork, and other uninteresting tasks

Most of us end up spending some part of the day doing non-core work. These are things that need to be done, but seldom gain one recognition or help one get ahead. These tasks can be time-consuming, and often boring. It’s up to the manager to tackle employee expectations and motivate the team to do these tasks.

Intikhab Wani of Quintiles, says, “On smaller, less important tasks that may or may not contribute to the actual job but have to be done—it is about how an organization and the manager define the work that is carried out and how they make the employee realize its relevance. A student makes a teacher, a child makes a mother; for us this principle ties in well, as we constantly communicate to our employees that whatever they do at their jobs, no matter how small, ultimately works towards benefiting the patient (the end user), and that makes the work the employees do valuable to them."

Review and correct

Quarterly and annual reviews have an important role in resetting expectations, but the evaluation process should be seen as an ongoing engagement.

Maneesha Jha Thakur of Edelweiss Financial Services says an intuitive manager should be able to spot red flags throughout the year. A conversation then and there can help the manager understand what the employee wants. On the other hand, employees should be able to talk about their discomfort or ambitions outside the formal-evaluation framework. “My advice to employees always is ‘Ask’," says Jha Thakur. Every time an employee asks about a change in role or more money, she says, it’s a chance for the manager to explain why the company can or cannot give the employee what they want at the time, and what the employee needs to do to grow into the bigger role.

Prof. Rao advocates the practice of “feed forward" instead of feedback. He says the review process should encourage managers and employees to talk on: “What I (the manager) like about something you did (in the previous quarter); what I wish you did or didn’t do; and what it is I am wondering about you." The last point, he says, might help the manager learn more about the employee.

Clear measurement parameters

Some organizations are now building in clarity about how they measure success, to give employees a general road map for growth in the company.

Divakar Kaza, president, HR, at pharma firm Lupin, says the company deploys a process called STEP, or “structure targets for effective performance". STEP, he explains, is about building consistency in target-setting, measurement standards and weightages for similar jobs. “The targets in STEP are categorized based on roles/grades. Given the kind of role one performs or the grade one is in, one needs to pick up the targets from the tables given in the document. The measurement matrix/ source is also provided in order to bring further clarity to the evaluation process," he says.

Krishna Kumar, founder and chief executive officer of online education company Simplilearn Solutions, says the company does appraisals twice a year—the first time to set goals, and the second time to take stock of what’s working and enable mid-course corrections for what’s not working. In each evaluation cycle, the company looks out for the top 5% employees who have done exceptionally well. These “exemplary" employees are considered for more strategic roles and greater responsibility. He cites the example of a sales executive who recently “exceeded expectations"—measured in number terms in the company as overachieving the goal by 50%—and was moved to a “category" function where he is involved in developing strategy around product pricing, and keeping an eye on the competition.

Kumar says he makes it a point to share with every employee the parameters for success—these are numbers and figures that clearly put an employee over the line in terms of exceptional performance. “We want to minimize the subjectivity that comes into the process," he says. In other words, reducing the impact of whether the manager likes an employee or not. Or if someone gets a new boss mid-term who does things differently from the previous manager. Simplilearn also allows employees to nominate themselves for the top 5% recognition.

Career growth and remuneration

For tenured employees, career growth and increments can be clear goals. Companies accommodate these aspirations in different ways, like Krishna Kumar’s exemplary 5% employees who automatically get considered for greater responsibility and more money.

At consulting company Accenture India, Manoj Biswas, managing director, geographic unit HR leader, says each employee gets a career counsellor and mentor. “We encourage quarterly discussions with a career counsellor on what the employee wants to do next—the counsellor may or may not be your manager. The counsellor develops an individual development plan for the employee (with their stated goal in mind). When an internal job posting opens up, an employee who has acquired the required skills has a good chance of getting the job they want," he explains.

The Towers Watson studies found that only 33% of employers thought their managers were effective at conducting career-development discussions as part of the performance-management process.

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Published: 30 Nov 2014, 06:18 PM IST
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