Managing Expectations

Why Hiring Managers need to be spell out exactly what they’re seeking from their new hires

Often students who earn lousy grades suggest that the teacher is responsible for their poor performance. Those same students claim that if a teacher is effective and knows how to teach students at all levels, then they will produce better work. At times it’s hard to say who should be held accountable. Occasionally, the blame can be shared. Perhaps not equally, but shared, nevertheless. This same dilemma is true in the workplace.

Hiring managers often don’t do all they can to maximize the performance of a new hire. And while they may loathe to admit it, the burden is on them at the beginning. It’s the responsibility of the hiring manager to communicate, early on, what is expected of employees. Don’t assume that your new hire knows. Hiring managers need to review ground rules, at a minimum, relating to: the desired caliber of the work, the importance of collaboration, what the real work hours are and how others balance responsibilities outside of work. When that’s done, subordinates usually adapt more quickly. And hiring managers who make a point to meet regularly and candidly discuss how someone is doing, will also find that a subordinate is more likely to remain productive. If a new hire doesn’t appear to understand what’s required, showing them actual examples of how others approach work can help considerably.

Sometimes, a hiring manager will select a candidate because they are less expensive than others. The hiring manager might even try to convince themselves that this same candidate will be fine. But then the hiring manager won’t bother to manage them and they’ll promptly realize they’ve created more work for themselves. This is a tricky situation and one few navigate successfully. Nearly all of the time, if that candidate is less expensive than the others, they will likely require more guidance. That’s been proven repeatedly.

Just as folklore suggests that teachers of younger children should refrain from smiling for the first few months of school, as a way to set a tone, some hiring managers are known to keep a personal distance. And while many teachers would argue that not smiling makes no sense, some hiring managers would encourage relaxed interaction. But what might be best first is to make certain that new hires are really doing what’s expected before their managers relax.

Two situations that I can point to demonstrate that the hiring managers didn’t do all they could to lay the ground rules. One manager isn’t experienced. He doesn’t appear to know how to approach overseeing a subordinate. And he waited about nine months before he told his direct report that his work was unsatisfactory. A second manager was hoping to figure things out but found himself wrestling with the situation. He hoped that humor would do the trick. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t. Ultimately, he realized he might benefit from having a conversation with a third party. A strategy was suggested with several recommendations that included parameters to apply so that the new hire was clearer on what was tolerated. It’s too soon to know the outcome but the hiring manager has been advised to update the third party weekly for the next six weeks.

If a hiring manager finds that the work done week after week is problematic, it’s essential to assume a different approach. First, speak with the new hire and listen to them. Ask them about their perspective on how work is going and what they view as their biggest challenges. Encourage them to be forthcoming. What may be learned is that the new hire is a victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect which essentially means the person believes they’ve done better than others on something when, in fact, their performance has been lousy. Once the new hire has had the opportunity to share their concerns, the hiring manager should first thank the new hire for being open. Then, take responsibility for not being as clear as possible. Explain in a matter of fact manner what is/isn’t suitable. The sooner this is accomplished the less likely it will be hostile, argumentative or miserable. Think of it as cleaning a closet regularly versus waiting months and being reluctant to open the door.

Just as teachers aren’t a good match for all of their students, hiring managers aren’t effective with all of their hires. When a hiring manager recognizes that the new employee can’t accomplish what’s necessary, they should be given the opportunity to find a new role, either at the same company or another, sooner vs. later. No reason for everyone to be miserable long term. The more respectful the hiring manager is, the less damage will be done. That’s important for everyone, including coworkers impacted by the unsuccessful hire.

The best outcome, from a situation of this nature, is that hiring managers are more careful when evaluating candidates and ultimately making an offer. Ideally, they might recognize that they shouldn’t be influenced by a candidate’s compensation expectations. Instead, the hiring manager should candidly convey their expectations in the interview process. Apart from that, they should ask questions when interviewing that require candidates to give examples of how they approach their work, deal with mistakes and criticism and collaborate with others.

Most teachers are delighted when their students excel. Students, of course, are pleased too. It’s the same with hiring managers and their subordinates.