How many of us have been in a situation where we are so utterly frustrated with an employee’s performance or behavior that we end up attacking the employee instead of the issue at hand? In this type of scenario, nothing gets resolved, and the emotional intensity puts the employee on guard against future conversation with us. This makes coaching even more difficult.

When something like this occurs, it’s vital to examine how it happened. Think back to before the employee even started behaving poorly — did you set clear expectations with him or her for how to be successful? So often we act in such a way that one would assume we think our employees are ‘psychic’ and should simply know what they should and shouldn’t do without us having to tell them. This belief leads us to frustration, because small behavioral problems begin to snowball into patterns that get more and more impactful to the company. As time passes, frustration builds, until eventually as a manager we reach that breaking point where we snap and lash out. However, this behavior on our part is like trying to close the barn doors after the horse has already bolted.

What we may forget is that people cannot change or improve if they don’t know where they stand in the present or where we expect them to be in the future. So often our own discomfort with being held accountable restrains us from holding others accountable, even when it comes to the simple task of clarifying what we expect from our team.

Here at Nexstar Network, one of our guiding principles is “See it, say it direct and with respect.” When you need to address an individual about a problem, toss out the idea that you’re being the “bad guy,” and gain confidence in knowing that you’re really being the “good guy” by stopping a small problem before it becomes a big problem. Delivery of the message with respect is key: We want to be sure to address the problem and not attack the person or crush their spirit.

In order to mitigate those explosive conversations we mentioned earlier, you’ll want to start by setting clear expectations from the first moment employees are hired. Starting on day one, they need to know what behavior is allowed and what isn’t, and that if performance falls below a minimum standard for a certain amount of time, their employment may not continue. Along with those expectations, they also need to know they will be given every opportunity for success through ongoing training, performance reports, and coaching. However, the choice to succeed or fail is ultimately up to the them.

Setting expectations is the beginning of crafting a high-performing team, but expectations alone are not enough; they must be consistently reinforced through the use of consequences. But wait before grabbing your big stick, as consequences aren’t all negative; in fact, a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative consequences is a good standard to shoot for. When thinking of positive consequences, think of rewards, incentives, contests, and sometimes just a good ol’ pat on the back to reinforce positive results. Remember to celebrate good behavior often through things such as company email blasts and other forms of public recognition.

What do you do when clear expectations have been set, rewards have been offered, and someone still chooses to wander down the wrong path? That’s when you have to turn to a consequence of progressive discipline, but that’s a conversation for next time. For now, “see it, say it directly and with respect,” and you’ll be on the right path to ensure clarity in expectations for your team.