All too often, we expect that people must know what we expect because it is obvious to us. Guess what? In the world of setting expectations, nothing is obvious. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage about what “ass-uming” does… that rule certainly applies when you want your employee to change their behaviour.
Don't just say "do it" but tell them what to do.
The first thing I ask a Manager when they come to me for advice on a disciplinary situation is “Do they know that what they did was wrong?” As simple as it may seem, all to often the answer is “of course, how could they not”, or “they have to know, it’s obvious”. Unfortunately, as much as you might think they ought to know, unless you’ve clearly explained what you expect, you may be running into a problem that you’ve created.
Start with any relevant policies. Make sure that your employees have read and understood them. Don’t simply get them to sign the policy, but discuss them and clarify the expectation, then have them sign.
Ensure that they are properly trained. Basic steps of training that generally work in all disciplines are Tell, Show, Do, and Review. Start with telling them what you expect and why. Then show them how to do it, and what success looks like. Thirdly, have them do the task and show that they can do so. Finally, review. Ask questions, provide feedback, and have them do it until they get it right. Until you have seen them do what you expect correctly and followed up to affirm that this was right, don’t assume they know how to behave or perform.
Sometimes the behaviour you want to correct has nothing to do with actual tasks, policies or training. I recently coached a friend through a situation where someone who worked for her was always arriving to work later than the rest of our team. In a flexible environment, this ordinarily wouldn’t be much of an issue, but a few times, during bad weather or traffic, she actually arrived late to meetings, and the leadership team’s perception of the employee was starting to be that she lacked drive. My friend had made hints such as asking why she didn’t come in earlier so she could leave earlier, or mentioning how effective she found her first half hour at the office because she could organize her day, but these hints weren’t working. My suggestion – tell her how her timing is affecting the perception of her and of your department, and ask her if she can come in earlier. You can probably guess the outcome of the story. She talked to the employee, who immediately offered to come in a half hour early, and has ever since.
Situations vary in their seriousness, but in all cases, stating clear expectations is necessary. Not only will it resolve the problem in many cases, but it must be done as a first step, if you ever need to prove later (in court or with the Ministry of Labour) that the employee clearly knew that their behaviour was wrong.