It goes without saying that your managers and even your coworkers expect you to produce high quality work, but what does high quality work actually look like? If this is a question you’ve been grappling with, then you’re not alone: A recent survey found that only 29% of workers “always” know whether their job performance is where it should be, so more than two thirds of workers don’t know if their work satisfies expectations, let alone exceeds them.
There are several reasons why this lack of understanding is problematic for leaders. First of all, if employees don’t know what good work looks like or what’s expected of them, there’s a high probability that they’re producing poor quality work simply because they don’t know better. In addition, if there aren’t clear guidelines or performance expectations, then providing employees with constructive criticism or feedback becomes more of a challenge; furthermore, the absence of guidelines can even make employees less receptive to hearing feedback.
Consider the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Named for the two psychologists who discovered it, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a form of cognitive bias where people are unable to recognize their own poor performance and actually think they excel at the task in question. It’s why a majority of drivers consistently rate themselves as above-average drivers, regardless of their actual abilities behind the wheel.
Without clear guidelines, the Dunning-Kruger Effect can lead your employees to believe that they’re producing excellent work when they really aren’t, and it can also influence how well they react to constructive criticism. Only 39% of employees respond to feedback by “systematically dissecting every step” of their decision making process prior to the thing they received criticism on–in other words, actually processing and thinking about your feedback–so potentially 61% of your workforce may process constructive criticism in a less-than-constructive way or just refuse to acknowledge that they have room to improve.
As a leader, how can you make sure that your employees perform at their highest possible level while also avoiding the pitfalls of Dunning-Kruger? Begin by making sure that you establish clear guidelines. Let your team know exactly what you expect of them and what they’re responsible for. Establishing clear guidelines also means demanding accountability: accountability from your employees when their performance doesn’t meet the standards you’ve set and accountability for yourself as well when you don’t give your employees sufficient instructions and resources to succeed. Providing examples of high quality work is also a great tactic.
For Dunning-Kruger, try to meet with your employees for more regular check-ins, and not just when you need to talk about what they don’t do effectively. More open lines of communication between you and the members of your team will make it easier to have conversations about areas where they can improve when they do come up. Also, having meetings to discuss what your employees have done well is a great way to positively reinforce what their job performance should look like.
Of course, it’s a challenge for large organizations to be completely free of underperforming or stubborn members–but if you want to take up that challenge in your office, you can start by establishing clear guidelines on employees’ performance, demanding accountability, and keeping communication open.