Setting the bar Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

Employees can’t excel without knowing what’s expected of them, says Thomas Gotshall.

And as the leader of your organization, it’s up to you to set challenging expectations for everyone and also set a clear way to measure progress toward each person’s goals.

“In turn, that helps every employee, whether they are a receptionist or a vice president of business development,” says Gotshall, co-founder, president and chief operating officer of Technical Solutions LLC, which provides specialized technology-enabled business solutions.

To set realistic expectations for employees at his company, which posted 2006 revenue of more than $26 million, Gotshall said he first had to understand them.

Smart Business spoke with Gotshall about how getting to know employees helps with setting expectations.

Q. How do you get to know your employees?

You need to do two things. You need to simply go out and have a cup of coffee with them or breakfast or break bread with them. When you get away from the office and you have breakfast with them, you can get to know them on a personal basis.

You can get to know what motivates them. Somebody might say, ‘You know what, I’ve got three kids, and I’m worried to death about paying for their college education, so I really need to start saving money.’

And then you might have another sales executive who’s not married, no kids, and they want to buy a new Porsche 911, and they want to buy that next week. The one person’s got more of a long-term focus, putting money away for college, and the other person wants to get a big hit tomorrow and go out and buy that Porsche.

So you get to know them personally, and then you do need to sit in a business environment with them and say, ‘OK, what are your expectations? What do you think you should strive for in terms of revenue target and new account target?’ and turn it into a business discussion.

Q. How do you know where to set the bar?

You have to push people. You have to know how much you can push them. You think of a football team. You’ve got an offensive line — they are wrapped very differently than the wide receivers.

Peyton Manning, as the quarterback and leader of the team, is wrapped completely differently from the offensive linemen and the wide receivers. So, [Tony] Dungy, who is the coach of the [Indianapolis] Colts, Dungy sets different expectations for those guys.

A good leader understands that a company is like a football or a basketball or a baseball team. They are all made up of moving parts, but all those moving parts do different things.

Q. How do you handle it when someone isn’t meeting expectations?

First, it’s probably a failure of management. That’s my first reaction to that. So, we haven’t done something right, assuming they are motivated.

Now, if we have hired someone who is not motivated, we hired the wrong person, and we need to figure that out. But, assuming they are motivated, we’ve probably either not given them the right tools to excel or given them the right direction to excel or haven’t set the right expectations.

So, my first go-around is to sit down with them and, say it’s a salesperson, have the VP of business operations sit down with them and say, ‘Why are things not going well for you here? What’s the disconnect? Do you not feel comfortable enough with the product? Do you not feel comfortable enough with our sales process? Do you not feel comfortable with people? Do you not feel comfortable closing? What’s missing?’

And if they are like most people, they are going to be honest and tell you what’s missing. And once you go through this discovery process and figure out, ‘Hey, this is what is missing,’ the rest is easy.

Q. How has setting expectations helped your company?

You have to set goals. You have to say, ‘Our revenue target this year is X. Our new account penetration is this number, our new account or new product development is this.’ It is incumbent upon a leader to set expectations and goals. Otherwise, everybody has probably a different idea what that ought to be.

Probably the single most important thing for the leader of an organization to do is set the expectation and the goals and the core values of the company. If a leader isn’t comfortable doing that or thinks that, ‘Gee whiz, all these people are here because they love to be here, and I’ll figure it out,’ I think those leaders, over the long haul, don’t last.

HOW TO REACH: Technical Solutions LLC, (248) 528-0150 or