Most feed and grain firms of any size have such an employee manual or policy book. But, if you do not, it is probably time to put one together. Capturing basic ground rules will help you set minimal expectations clearly, and it is very important when bringing new employees onboard. Note these last points are true only if these employee manuals/policy books get used. New employees need to thoroughly understand your ground rules as part of their “on-boarding” process. Supervisors must ensure the ground rules are followed. If they look the other way when employees ignore basic ground rules around work habits, attitudes and safety and the performance of most organizations will begin unwinding.
Mutually agreed on expectations
When you move into setting expectations for managerial/supervisory positions, the task is more challenging but even more important. Here, there can be a tendency to assume the individual “knows what is expected” and if they don’t, they should not be in the role. Or, the expectations may be broad and vague such as “I am not a micromanager — just run the unit and keep problems off my desk.” You may well have supervisors and managers who don’t need any more guidance than that. But, we would argue even for high-performing managers and supervisors who have experience in their roles, clarity of expectations can be a powerful leadership tool — and a source of frustration if they are not in place.
Beyond the issues we started this article with — frustration over the fact the employee isn’t doing “what I want them to do in the way I want it done” — a lack of clear expectations at this level likely means lost opportunity. If you are going to develop clear expectations for your managerial and supervisory employees, it means you and the employee have had a conversation about what are the most important things in their area of responsibility and prioritized some of these as goals or issues to be addressed in the future. Once these expectations are clearly defined, you and the manager/supervisor know what the priorities are and what is to be accomplished over some future period of time.
An example is in order. You have a manager running a branch facility for your organization. Sales/grain volume has been a bit sluggish, but the facility is efficient and has a very strong safety record. Turnover among the operations crew is low, and the group in the plant/driving trucks seems high performing. You spend some time with the branch manager talking about the sales/grain volume issues. The issues seem to revolve around turnover in the sales force and the lack of experience of the current sales staff. Some of the problem looks to be driven by a new promotion/program launched by a competitor. After discussion, you and the manager agree to several action items: 1) she will take a more proactive approach on relationship building with a few of the largest accounts and prospects; 2) you will provide some additional training to the sales staff; 3) she will look into some new promotions/programs to address what the competitor is up to; and 4) she will work to make sure the location’s top-notch operations team is used as a point of difference with customers.
Contrast this set of expectations with the “I am not a micro-manager — just run your unit and keep problems off my desk” approach. Now you and the manager know what the next steps are — there is no ambiguity as to what she is to work on. She has the benefit of your insight and experience as she works to turn the sales issue around. Together, you have explored solutions for the most important issue facing the branch. Now you won’t be stewing about why she is not doing something about the sales issue — she will be. That said, if she does not address the sales issue or does not follow through on your agreed upon action plan, you have what you need for further coaching or disciplinary actions if required.
More on this below, but good leadership means you just don’t set these expectations and forget about them. You have a responsibility to check in with your manager, find out how she is doing, and what issues she is running into. You may well learn things that will help her make adjustments to the plans or avert a problem in the making. At the absolute minimum, the very fact you are communicating with her about your expectations means they will stay top of mind for her. This reinforcement is key if expectations are to be acted on.