Learning & Development, Talent

Why Managers Should Know the Limitations of Their Staff

Managers understandably expect a lot from their staff members. The best managers know how to push their team members to stretch the limits of their abilities and produce exceptional outcomes while developing personally and professionally.


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But there are also dangers involved in expecting too much from staff. Unrealistic expectations can result in frustration and disappointment by both managers and staff, as well as missed goals and objectives.

2 Types of Expectations 

First, let’s think about the types of staff expectations a manager might have. It can be helpful to think of staff capabilities as falling along two spectrums: aptitude and efficiency.

We use aptitude to refer to the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to complete a task, such as the ability to clean a carburetor for a mechanic or calculate a business venture’s return on investment (ROI) for a financial analyst or an accountant.

Efficiency refers to the speed with which the employee can complete the work. Does it take a day to clean that carburetor or an hour?

Accurate Planning

An obvious benefit of knowing team members’ limitations is the ability to plan effectively. If that mechanic can only clean two carburetors per day, asking him or her to clean 20 in a 5-day week is setting everyone up for failure.

Similarly, asking a financial intern to calculate the ROI of a complex investment will result in poor and inaccurate work if the intern doesn’t have the necessary ability.

Reducing Conflict and Tension

Unrealistic expectations can also lead to conflict, tension, frustration, low morale, and ultimately turnover in an organization. Managers who don’t appreciate the limitations of their employees will be consistently frustrated with the work they see and the time it takes to see it, while employees will feel tremendous pressure and low self-esteem.

Identifying Areas for Improvement

Finally, understanding the limitations of staff is the first step in finding areas for employee improvement and development. Efforts to address weaknesses should focus on these limitations.

Although it’s great to believe in and expect the best from team members, it’s important to also be realistic when setting expectations. Unrealistic expectations lead to missed objectives and office tension. The key to setting realistic expectations is knowing staff limitations.

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