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Raising the Bar: Why "Meets Expectations" Can Mean Missed Opportunities

An image depicting a road with multiple lanes where the center lane is marked with a bold red arrow pointing straight ahead, signifying forward movement. The other lanes have white arrows that are merging into the red arrow's path, illustrating the concept of converging ideas or directions into a unified way forward. The road is set against the backdrop of a large, intricate maze on either side, symbolizing complex challenges or decisions.

Happy New Year! It's performance management season and as a seasoned HR professional, I've come to recognize an uncomfortable truth: the standard of "meeting expectations" is often the quiet thief of potential. It’s a hard-earned insight, echoed by the poignant observations of Marc Effron in his article Why ‘Meets Expectations’ Never Does: A Conversation Guide for Managers.

Effron insightfully discusses the trap of low expectations, urging leaders to elevate their sights—to inspire rather than simply require. Performance reviews, he suggests, should be panoramic, not myopic, reflecting not just on tasks completed but on horizons expanded.

And indeed, it is this expansive view that can transform management from a function of oversight to a catalyst for growth. When leaders set the mark at mere adequacy, they unwittingly clip the wings of aspiration. The bar set too low becomes a ceiling, not a threshold. Potential thrives not on the familiar, but on the frontiers of "what could be."

In the performance assessments I advocate for, we must ask: Are our team members simply arriving at goals, or are they setting new ones? Do they contribute, or do they elevate? Are they working harder, or also smarter? These queries shift the focus from a pedestrian pace to a progressive stride.

Acknowledging those who surpass the baseline is vital. These individuals often serve as the silent engines of progress—our "unsung heroes." They should be celebrated, not sidelined. Recognition is more than a pat on the back; it is an affirmation of value, a reinforcement of the behaviors that drive us forward.

To the managers reading this, let this be a clarion call. Merely meeting expectations is not the endgame; it is the bare minimum. Urge your team to reach further, to achieve not just more, but something greater. Commend the achievers, spotlight their successes, and integrate their exemplary practices into the fabric of your team's ethos.

Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people. - John D. Rockefeller

Through this lens, performance evaluation becomes less about judgment and more about empowerment. It’s a shift from assessing to assisting, from reviewing to renewing.

The payoff of such an approach is twofold: your employees will feel seen and valued, leading to increased engagement and retention; your organization, infused with a culture of excellence and recognition, will not just grow but thrive.

Let's set a new standard where "meets expectations" is not the destination but a steppingstone to greater achievement. The journey towards excellence is continuous, and every step counts.


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