Create clarity to generate engaged and accountable employees

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A successful company isn’t just full of employees who work hard—it consists of people who care. The driving force behind motivation goes beyond the amount on a paycheck. It’s about employees feeling valued by their peers and, most importantly, by their leaders.

Providing this support and establishing employee engagement can be a challenge for managers, but it can be easier by following these 4 tenets: Create clarity, serve, invest, every day. We’re going to dig deep into each one in 4 separate blogs and fully flesh out what it means to be a great manager.

The first step, create clarity, is establishing clear and effective communication with your employees. It includes making sure each person understands what is expected of them, taking prompt action when these expectations aren’t met, and continuing to monitor and evolve these expectations over the course of the employee’s tenure.

In 2014, at SMG’s annual Forum, employee engagement expert Marcus Buckingham spoke about the importance of creating positive workplaces. Buckingham has continuous dialogue around employee engagement practice, stating that one of the most critical components is to consistently make sure every employee understands their basic expectations.

Managers who create highly engaging work environments promote accountability and clarity by consistently doing 3 things:

1. State standards

Be very clear about what you expect from your employees, making sure there is no ambiguity or guesswork about how their performance will be measured. Follow these steps when establishing goals and expectations:

  • Come up with an effective game plan together—inclusion gives employees ownership over their future
  • Customize an action plan best suited for the individual, considering varying skill sets and learning styles; for those familiar with Situational Leadership principles, it’s often helpful to apply the stages of employee development to each of the major expectations you are outlining
  • Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related
  • Mind your language: Use a “do this” (not a “don’t do that”) approach by providing useful information on what you want employees to do instead of telling them what to avoid

By incorporating these practices, you can help set your employees up for success, which in turn will create a more productive work environment, lower turnover, and ultimately, financial gain for your company.

2. Quickly address poor performance

One of the most important tasks of a manager is to promptly address issues of poor performance. This is often something that gets pushed to the back burner in order to avoid confrontation or an unpleasant interaction. Allowing negative experiences to persevere can be toxic, not just for the employee, but for the team as a whole. Highly engaged employees want to work alongside other high-performing employees. Ignoring signs of bad performance can be disengaging, so don’t allow problems to fester.

Hiring and firing decisions need to be handled with great care. A manager needs to come from a place of compassion for the employee and make sure that sufficient development opportunities for improvement have been given. If you feel as if you’ve done all you can but aren’t seeing the results you need, it’s time to take action. As tough as it may be to do, you’re ultimately liberating someone from a bad situation and in turn, helping the remaining team’s engagement by addressing a poor performance issue. 

Also be very conscientious of who you do and don’t keep on board. A lot of businesses “rack and stack” their employees and cut the bottom (e.g. the lowest 10%). This isn’t always a great strategy. Most hiring and firing decisions aren’t that clear-cut and blind elimination could cause you to lose valuable employees. That’s why it’s so important to have solid measurements in place to give you broad, overall insight into an employee’s performance, and help you make these decisions thoughtfully.

3. Align expectations

Make sure expectations remain fluid and properly evolve along with the employee. To start, have the employee write down what they think is expected of them while you do the same. Then review your answers together to see where you agree and disagree. Do this right out of the gate (first week of employment) to properly align expectations. As time passes, things change—there could be restructures within the company, new management, shifts in responsibility, etc.—so continue to have regular check-ins and see if a re-alignment is necessary.  



Continuous re-evaluation is a strategy that has been successful at SMG. The first week of employment is a series of onboarding tasks that include setting up 30-, 60-, and 90-day goals with managers. Through regular one-on-one meetings, they are able to go over this list and adjust accordingly. Within the first 14 days at SMG, the employee also receives a survey we created in-house. By asking questions specific to their onboarding and training experience, we are able to obtain important feedback and continuously tweak our employee engagement practices.

Bottom line:

By creating clarity, both initially upon hiring employees and throughout their tenure, managers can establish productive and trusting relationships that produce top performance. Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we’ll look into the second part of the manager mantra: serve.

If you want to discover more about what engaged employees can do for your business, download “Five things we learned from talking to one million employees.”

Jeff Jokerst | VP, Customer Engagement

Customer Experience Update