Performance Expectations = Results + Actions & Behaviors

To perform well, employees need to know what is expected of them. The starting point is an up-to-date job description that describes the essential functions, tasks, and responsibilities of the job. It also outlines the general areas of knowledge and skills required of the employee an employee to be successful in the job.

Performance expectations go beyond the job description. When you think about high quality on-the-job performance, you are really thinking about a range of expected job outcomes, such as

  • What goods and services should the job produce?
  • What impact should the work have on the organization?
  • How do you expect the employee to act with clients, colleagues, and supervisors?
  • What are the organizational values the employee must demonstrate?
  • What are the processes, methods, or means the employee is expected to use?

In discussing performance expectations an employee should understand why the job exists, where it fits in the organization, and how the job's responsibilities link to organization and department objectives. The range of performance expectations can be broad but can generally be broken into two categories:

  • Results (The goods and services produced by an employee often measured by objectives or standards)
  • Actions & Behaviors (The methods and means used to make a product and the behaviors and values demonstrated during the process. Actions and Behaviors can be measured through performance dimensions.)

Performance expectations serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. They also serve as the basis for reviewing employee performance. When you and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.

Expectations should always be set in accordance with UC policies and union contracts. For additional information, please see:

Defining Results

S.M.A.R.T. Performance Objectives and Standards

Performance objectives and standards are two of the most common methods to define expected results. Both objectives and standards are most useful when, in addition to being written down and verifiable, they are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

    Specific – Objectives and standards should let employees know exactly which actions and results they are expected to accomplish.

Measurable – Whenever possible, objectives and standards should be based on quantitative measures such as direct counts, percentages, and ratios..

Attainable – The objective or standard should be achievable, but challenging, and attainable using resources available.

Relevant – Individual goals, objectives and standards should be in alignment with those of the unit and the department in support of the University’s mission.

Timely – Results should be delivered within a time period that meets the department and organization’s needs.

Objectives and standards identify baselines for measuring performance results. From performance objectives and standards, supervisors can provide specific feedback describing the gap between expected and actual performance.

Objectives and Standards – Is it “OK” to Have Both?

It can be very useful to define both objectives and standards for a position, but it is not necessary.

Standards are directly linked to job-task completion.
Example: Ensure that all grant requests are written, reviewed, and submitted to the granting agency/foundation by the required deadlines.

Objectives are broader in scope, go beyond day-to-day standards, and are clearly linked to helping the organization or department meet its goals and objectives.
Example: Identify three new grant/funding sources by the end of FY 2006.

In some cases, you and the employee may find it better to set a series of standards with only a few objectives, while in other situations it may make more sense to set objectives alone.

Objectives and Standards – Some Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantages and disadvantages outlined belowcan give guidance on when to use objectives or standards or both.

Objectives – AdvantagesObjectives – DisadvantagesStandards – AdvantagesStandards - Disadvantages

Ties unit/organization’s objectives to employee’s objectives.

Specific to individual.

Facilitates employee and supervisor communication.

Future – oriented. Flexible.

Can be put into place for all employees, but more easily used for employees with a broader scope of responsibilities, and a mixture of non-routine and routine work.

Can focus on annual results, while ignoring routine aspects of job.

Care must be taken to ensure objectives are realistic.

Can be compromised by changing circumstances. Too much flexibility.

Must be consistent with culture and can be time consuming to implement a fully integrated system.

Tied to job duties and responsibilities.

Best when applied to any employee performing the same job duties.

Facilitates communication.

Makes it very clear how performance will be measured.

Standards can exist for any job. They are particularly useful in jobs where for health, safety, legal and/or operations reasons work must be done in a certain way. They are also more easily put into place for jobs that have a large number of routine tasks required.

Can become too task oriented.

Less flexible when responsibilities of a position change. If standards are not reviewed and updated regularly, it can hold the employee and unit back.

May not provide enough challenge for employee.

Takes time to develop.

Performance Objectives

Characteristics of Objectives

A performance objective is a future state of achievement that helps the organization succeed and create value. It is a direct link between the work an employee does and the department and organization’s overall objectives and mission. As the organization’s needs change and direction shifts, so will an employee’s performance objectives.

  • Performance objectives express mutually understood agreements for results that an employee is expected to produce during the performance review period.
  • Performance objectives are not separate from an employee’s job, but part of the job.
  • Performance objectives are “ends” towards which you and your employee direct effort and focus resources.

For these reasons it is best not to dictate objectives, but set them through discussion, negotiation, compromise, and agreement.

While much has been written about differences between objectives, targets, and goals, there are no real differences. There are some authors who may make a distinction based on scale and time, but for our purposes the term “objective” will be used.

Why Set Objectives

Objectives force you and the employee to think of planning for results, not just planning activities. Identifying objectives encourages you and the employee to continually look for ways to improve overall department effectiveness and efficiency, and link individual and departmental operations and results to the overall planning and mission of the University. Objectives set through a collaborative process between the employee, supervisor, and department elicit commitment.

Expressing Performance Objectives

It helps to set objectives using the following format:

To [Action verb] [Key Result] by [Date] at [Cost of (if applicable)]

Examples of Performance Objectives:

  • Implement update of on-line graduate application program by October 1, 200x
  • Reduce telephone expenses by 15% within the first half of the fiscal year.
  • Identify three new funding sources by the end of FY 200x, and ensure that all grant requests are written, reviewed, and submitted to the granting agency/foundation by the respective deadlines.

The following questions may help generate ideas for performance objectives. Based on departmental/unit objectives:

  • What can this employee do to improve the overall effectiveness of the work unit?
  • Has the employee suggested program or process changes that help us meet our objectives and can be completed during the appraisal period?
  • What needs to be done to improve the quality of our service? What refinements can we make to our operations? What needs to be introduced or eliminated?
  • What are we ready to do now that we could not do last year (due to increased resources, system modifications, changed priorities, updated skills, etc.)?
  • What skills, processes, products must be updated to meet client (student, faculty, staff, community) demand?

Considerations When Developing Objectives

You and the employee should develop objectives together whenever possible.

  • Set short-term goals with a long-term view. Objectives are generally set for periods of a year or less, which may sacrifice long-term gain to generate results in the short-term.
  • Identify critical issues and possible obstacles 
  • Do not underestimate resource needs.
  • Build in flexibility.  Regular status update and check-in meetings make it much easier to identify problems or shifts in unit priorities and change course.

Performance Standards

Click on any of the following items for additional information:

Characteristics of Performance Standards

Standards describe the conditions that must exist before the performance can be rated satisfactory. Performance standards are approved expressions of the

  • Performance threshold(s),
  • Requirement(s), or
  • Expectation(s)

employees must meet to be reviewed at particular levels of performance.

A standard focuses on task completion. It is specifically tied to duties/responsibilities. A performance standard should:

  • Be realistic, in other words, attainable by any qualified, competent, and fully trained person who has the authority and resources to achieve the desired result
  • Be “exceedable.” Employees should know that they can and should exceed expectations. Standards should not be used as an excuse to maintain the status quo if change is needed.
  • Describe the conditions that exist when performance meets expectations
  • Be expressed in terms of quantity, quality, time, cost, effect, manner of performance, or method of doing
  • Be measurable, with specified method(s) of gathering performance data and measuring performance against standards

Expressing Standards

The terms for expressing performance standards are outlined below:

  • Quantity: specifies how much work must be completed within a certain period of time, e.g., enters 30 enrollments per day.
  • Quality: describes how well the work must be accomplished. Specifies accuracy, precision, appearance, or effectiveness, e.g., 95% of documents submitted are accepted without revision.
  • Timeliness: answers the questions: By when, how soon, or within what period, e.g., all work orders completed within five working days of receipt.
  • Effective Use of Resources: used when performance can be reviewed in terms of utilization of resources: money saved, waste reduced, etc., e.g., the computer handbook project will be completed with only internal resources.
  • Effects of Effort: addresses the ultimate effect to be obtained; expands statements of effectiveness by using phrases such as: so that, in order to, or as shown by, e.g., establish inventory levels for storeroom so that supplies are maintained 100% of the time.
  • Manner of Performance: describes conditions in which an individual's personal behavior has an effect on performance, e.g., assists other employees in the work unit in accomplishing assignments.
  • Method of Performing Assignments: describes requirements; used when only the officially-prescribed policy, procedure, or rule for accomplishing the work is acceptable, e.g., 100A Forms are completed in accordance with established office procedures.

Create Standards for Key Areas of Responsibility

Write performance standards for each key area of responsibility on the employee's job description. Focus on tasks that have the greatest importance; it is not necessary to write standards for every task.

Standards are usually established when an assignment is made, and should be reviewed if the employee's job description is updated. Whenever possible, have employees participate in developing standards. The discussion of standards should include the criteria for achieving satisfactory performance and the proof of performance (methods you will use to gather information about work performance).

In departments where more than one person does the same task or function, standards may be written for the parts of the jobs that are the same and applied to all positions doing that task.

Remember, changes in performance standards may require notice for represented employees. Teamsters 2010, for example requires notice. In addition, there are contracts that cover specialized professions, such as Nurses and Police, that have their own standard-setting and evaluation processes. Refer to the appropriate labor contract and contact Employee Relations when setting standards.

Identifying Actions & Behaviors for Success - Performance Dimensions


In addition to objectives and standards (which focus on end results) it is important to consider other aspects of performance. As discussed earlier, Performance Expectations = Results + Actions & Behaviors.

Understanding the actions and behaviors that employees can use to perform the job is often as important to success as end results. Behavior is the day-to-day activity in which people engage to produce results and relates closely to the process side of work.

Focusing on the way people go about their work is based on the belief that doing things correctly will lead to positive organizational results. However, many actions and behaviors are not easy to measure. For this reason, managers and employees should discuss difficult to quantify aspects of performance in terms that are

  • Specific,
  • Observable,
  • Job-related, and
  • Behavioral.

When described in this way, behaviors and actions can be grouped into performance dimensions that can be used to review job performance.

For example, if success in meeting an objective such as “updating an on-line graduate application program” requires strong interpersonal skills, then the employee should know that s/he will have to build solid relationships, collaborate, and incorporate ideas and suggestions made by colleagues. Performance will be reviewed on how well behaviors associated with the dimension, interpersonal skills, are demonstrated in reaching the objective.

Characteristics of Performance Dimensions

Performance dimensions are defined based on the job and the work itself.

In creating a performance dimension you start with the job and state the range of behaviors employees must exhibit to successfully meet or exceed job expectations. These behaviors are then grouped into broad categories that we are calling “dimensions.” Performance dimensions help answer the question: “How does someone act and/or behave when s/he does the job well?”

Since dimensions are broad categories, a specific dimension generally applies to any employee working in a given job. It is also possible for departments and units and even entire organizations to have dimensions that apply to any employee who works in the group.

In addition to strong interpersonal skills, other examples of performance dimensions include:

  • Customer Service Orientation
  • Teamwork
  • Effective Communication
  • Valuing Diversity
  • Analysis and Problem-Solving
  • Decision-Making and Results Orientation
  • Adaptability
  • Fostering a Safe and Secure Environment

This list is by no means exhaustive. Each organization should agree on the definitions used for a dimension and the job or job groups to which a dimension will be applied. It is common, for example, to have a series of dimensions that apply to all supervisors and/or managers in an organization. The definition and validation of dimensions is a key objective of the Staff Infrastructure Steering Committee (SISC) Performance Management Working Group.

Expressing Performance Dimensions

For dimensions to be an effective means of measuring performance, they must have two characteristics:

  • Have a clear general definition, and
  • Have well-defined levels of performance at each point along a rating scale.

This definition of Teamwork is one example of a performance dimension definition.

The Teamwork Dimension describes how employees build alliances to solve problems and achieve objectives, work cooperatively and respectively with co-workers, use diplomacy and tact when interacting with others, diffuse tension, help manage conflict, collaborate, foster collegial and cooperative attitudes, relate well to all kinds of people regardless of level inside or outside of organization, and contribute to the overall success of their work units and departments by sharing knowledge and information.

Teamwork is then defined for each point along a rating scale. For the 2008 Performance Rating Scale, please see the Performance Rating Scale.

Performance Dimensions and Competencies – There is a Difference

Performance dimensions focus on the actions that need to be taken by anyone doing that job to get the work done. As discussed above, performance dimensions are groupings of behaviors/actions and are defined based on the requirements and expectations of the job.

In contrast, a competency is a cluster of knowledge, skills and abilities that describes a general trait that an employee has or should have to perform a job. While competencies relate to the individual, performance dimensions relate to the job.

For example, a performance dimension for a Budget Analyst’s position may be to “Prepare budget documents and reports.” It will then be useful to measure how well an employee holding the job:

  1. “Presents information in a clear, concise manner that illustrates budget issues that need to be resolved”,
  2. “Produces timely budget documents and reports that are tailored to each customer’s needs. and,
  3. Frequently uses graphics and other aids to summarize and synthesize data.

If the person holding the position is a highly competent communicator and knowledgeable about the budget process, then there is an overlap between the performance dimension “Prepare budget documents and reports” and the employee’s “communication” and “technical knowledge” competencies.

Since competencies focus on an employee’s traits they are useful in hiring and development. Performance dimensions, which focus on the job, are useful for performance management and review.