“Do Better” is not a Performance Goal

“You have to do better.” As a manager, have you ever said
this to one of your employees?

If yes, what does “do better” mean?

The lack of clarity in communicating performance goals and
expectations borders on “cruel and unusual punishment” in
some organizations.

Below is a great quote from the book, “Motivating and
Rewarding Employees,” by Alexander Hiam:

“‘Do better’ is not a performance goal. Nor is ‘Do much
better.’ Nor is ‘Be the best.’ Yet managers often state
so-called goals like this. The reason these aren’t goals
is that they are not specific enough to be clearly
relevant to performance. They set the employee up for a
fall because they are low in task clarity. What does a
manager expect when he or she says to do a good job?
What’s the manager’s definition of good? What does he or
she care about?”

HR POINTER: Setting performance expectations and
performance goals is tough work.

In our engagements with managers, we often find that it is
easier to have a manager state the negative or what the
manager would be disappointed with, than it is to
articulate the expected goal. We then use the negatives
to work backwards to express the performance in a positive

Hiam notes that the vast majority of people don’t go to
work to do a bad job. They want to perform well at work.
However, when managers use vague and cryptic words like
“do better” or “I’ll know good work when I see it,”
employees do not feel empowered, but rather feel

Whenever we make an employee’s performance dependent on
our subjective judgment, we suck the commitment and
engagement from the person’s work.

As managers, we need to keep in mind that the single most
important reason for setting expectations and goals is to
create opportunities for positive reinforcement that
advance the goals of the organization.

As managers, we need to “do better.” 🙂

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