Meets vs. Exceeds – Even Michael Jordan Had Issues With Setting Expectations Too High….

Kris Dunn Kris Dunn, Performance

Back in the day at Fistful (which means April of 2008 – we’re like a dot.com here) I riffed a post on why explaining "meets vs. exceeds" to employees is like brushing your teeth on the treadmill.  That is to say it’s hard, primarily because it involves confrontation with employees who have long been told they’re above average.  Not superstars, but above average.  Then you come along and try to tell them that "meeting" expectations is good.  Sometimes that doesn’t go well.

FOT subscriber LK recently found that post and spins it from the employee’s side via the followingSuperstar question:

"I am having a disagreement with my (recently new) manager regarding what constitutes "meets" vs. "exceeds". He agrees I have done an outstanding job during a time when our department was at half its usual staffing. I trained younger staff, did sections of the job generally done by my former boss, and came up with innovative solutions that enabled us to meet all deadlines despite what all agree was a difficult period.

In my review he interpreted this as "meets expectations" because at my level it is expected I would do an exceptional job. I interpret this to mean that because it is expected I will exceed expectations, I will only be "meeting" that expectation. To me this pretty much makes objectives meaningless, and so I am struggling to come up with my objectives for next year. I don’t want to create objectives that are impossible to exceed. Any ideas how I should approach this?"

LK, that’s a great question, and I’ll take a shot here and ask the other members of the FOT team and the readers to pitch in as well.  Anytime you’re doing a review with a 3-point scale (Does Not Meet, Meets and Exceeds), the rubber ALWAYS meets the road when it comes to defining Meets vs. Exceeds.

That being said, the burden should be on the manager to define what Exceeds performance looks like in your role.  If you’re not already doing that, a way that you can help your manager get his head around that is to ask for what Meets/Exceeds performance looks like on an objective-by-objective basis.  For example, let’s say you are a HR Manager.  You could easily break up your role into 7-8 primary objectives, such as Employee Relations, Recruiting, Training, etc.

Once you’ve done that, I would ask your manager to define what "meets" performance looks like in each one of those areas, and also what "exceeds" performance looks like.  That’s the best way to get your manager focused on the details of your role, and not generalize that "at your level, I expect exceeds".  It’s still his job to tell you what truly exceeding his expectations looks like.   

Final note – if he can’t come up with anything for the exceeds column, you should always save "innovation" for the exceeds column.  Try to get him to agree that making your department run smoothly and meet goals in each objective is "meets" performance, but truly innovating and thinking about better ways to do things and implementing those ideas is exceeds.  If you have trouble getting that agreement, ask him who else is doing similar innovation. 

Hint – there’s usually not many who go out of their way.  If that doesn’t work, sic a HR pro like Jessica Lee on them…