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Closing the Gap Between Reality and Expectation


Many of my clients are clear communicators. When they see that an employee is not hitting their goals or is self-sabotaging by messing up relationships or breaking a lot of glass, they seem to have no trouble telling the employee that the behavior is not working for them. “Whew, what a relief,” they think, “I’m glad that’s taken care of.” For a few weeks they feel pretty good. Then, when that same behavior shows up again in the employee’s performance, they get frustrated.

If you were the manager in this situation, what should you have done?

The step you missed is to tell the employee what you expect, and to describe the gap between what you expect and what you got. That gap is the problem the employee must own and fix. Many managers forget to explicitly place responsibility on the shoulders of the employee.

Before the conversation ends, make sure the employee understands in clear terms what you expect them to fix, and by when. Ideally, ask how they will fix it; don’t tell them. Next, make a follow-up meeting to check in with how they are progressing on closing the gap.

This shows the employee you mean business. In that next follow-up meeting, you can ask them what they did, how it is working, and what they have learned. Offer your feedback, and say that you are happy they fixed the problem and closed the gap.

If you were the employee in this situation, how should you have handled it?

First, thank your manager for the feedback about your performance. Feedback is good. You need it to get back on track. Ask questions about what the boss expects you to do and by what timeframe, and take detailed notes. Make sure you understand how this issue affects the boss, or others on your team. If you don’t know, now is the time to ask.

Then go deliver what the boss wants. Proactively schedule a follow-up meeting to report how you closed the gap and fixed the problem. By taking action and initiative, you are sending a strong positive message to your boss that you took his or her concerns seriously. Ask questions to make sure your boss is fine with the results.

Whichever role you have in the situation, you want to leave that follow-up meeting with both of you feeling good. As the employee, you can be glad you righted your wrong and improved your performance. As the boss, you can be glad your employee took feedback well and delivered the requested actions. You can both be satisfied with the direct and effective communication that allowed you to close this gap.

Have you ever gotten stuck in this gap, on either end of the scenario?

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