Meeting vs. Exceeding Expectations—Teaching Students the Difference

By Josh Frahm posted 01-21-2020 07:57


Through my experiences working with students and young professionals, I’ve noticed a lack of understanding of what it means to “exceed expectations.” With many of you being the first (or close to the first) supervisor students ever have, it’s crucial you teach them how to exceed expectations on the job—not just this job, but any job.

 When I was a young professional, someone told me that no matter where you work, employees will perform on a 10-80-10 bell curve. Ten percent will struggle, 80 percent will meet expectations and think they are exceeding, and 10 percent will exceed expectations. I thought this was crazy at first, but the more experience I get the more accurate that statement has become. Today, my focus is to provide some discussion topics for you to help your students be in that top 10 percent. 

The Little Things

Understanding the importance of doing “the little things” well is important at every professional level, but is especially important for students. Without controlling your controllables, you will not increase your responsibility and that holds true in any role. Some examples to discuss with students include the importance of:

  • Attendance—Showing up on time everyday; teach them how to properly handle a situation where they cannot come to work or are going to be late.
  • Dress Code—Explain to them what business casual means (they don’t know!). My advice: Dress for the position you want to have, not the position you have.
  • Cell Phone/Employer Property Etiquette—There is a time and place to use your cell phone and the Internet for pleasure; model the behavior you want to see.
  • Respect EVERYONE—To stand out, you not only have to impress your superiors, but everyone around you; teach them how to be the go-to person.
  • Be a Leader Amongst Your Peers—Further responsibility will not come without knowing their own role and helping others around them become better.

 Are you going to be promoted for doing these little things well? Probably not. However, everything you do brands you as an employee. If students want to exceed expectations, they need to be taught the importance of dominating the little things.

**Did you know: Only 15 percent of fired employees are fired for workplace performance? The rest are let go for lack of people skills, professionalism, or communication issues—aka “the little things.” 

Overachieve or Meet Expectations:

Let’s be honest, some student jobs are not exactly rocket science. Students may be allowed to do homework, watch YouTube, or use their phone during work hours. That’s all fine and dandy, but is that what they do immediately when their work is complete?

Be Proactive:

As supervisors, we need to teach students proactive behavior (some already have that work ethic which is great!). We can learn a lot about students’ professional mindset by what they do when their work is complete. Do they immediately hop on the internet, or do they first ask if their teammates need help with anything? Do they jump on their phone, or do they come to you and ask if there is anything they can assist with? Proactive behavior takes 0 percent skill and 100 percent effort and it’s the top way to learn new things and stand out.

Consistently Positive Attitude:

Do you have a consistently positive attitude—like EVERYDAY? We have all heard the term work-life or school-life balance. Students have a lot of responsibility and are often stressed, but the same can be said for the normal full-time employee as well. How we departmentalize our lives can be crucial in standing out in the workplace. It’s critical to have that conversation with your students.

For example, is it your co-workers, peers, or customers fault that your girlfriend was mean to you last night? You may be stressed about your personal life, but your work life shouldn’t pay the consequences. It absolutely takes skill to be able to “fake it” some days when you are not feeling the best, but people who overachieve are able to not let one aspect of their life negatively affect another.

Build Effective Relationships:

You can be the smartest person in your entire department, but if people don’t like to work with you, there is a ceiling on how far your smarts can take you. By being proactive and having a consistently positive attitude, any worker at any level will build effective relationships. Make it a point to not only discuss the importance of being good at the “book smarts” portion of the job, but stress the relationship building aspect. As we will discuss in the next section, relationship building is crucial to becoming a memorable employee.

 Be Memorable

The biggest reason most employees stay in the middle 80 percent of the performance bell curve is they don’t understand what exceeding expectations means. It is ASSUMED that you are going to be good and competent at your job—that’s not exceeding expectations. Doing your job allows you to keep your job, not get promoted. Most employees, especially young professionals, struggle to understand that. To exceed expectations, you not only have to be proactive and great at the little things, but you need to make yourself seen. Stress to your students the value of the following opportunities to both learn and gain further visibility:

  • One-on-one meetings
  • Team/departmental meetings
  • Conference calls
  • Presentation opportunities
  • Committees
  • Social events

 Often, it takes being in the right place at the right time to be noticed for your skills and potential. When those opportunities come about, teach your students how to take advantage of them by displaying their power skills—which if you call them what they really are would be transferable skills. Bottom line, do more than just your job. 

Prove Your Worth Everyday

If you have noticed, everything we have discussed today is 100 percent under our control as an employee. To follow that up, here are seven additional ways to describe how to stand out on a job:           

  1. Be a Problem Solver—Don’t just identify problems, come up with solutions
  2. Work Hard & Smart—What are things that you can work on that really matter to your supervisor and organization?
  3. Make Your Boss’s Life Easy—Offer to take over aspects of their job that they might not enjoy, and stand out doing them!
  4. Understand the Whole Organization—Not Just Your Role—Understand the “whole” including the competition and how other departments work together
  5. Make Sure You Over-Deliver—Look for opportunities to work on projects from start to finish and overachieve on every task
  6. Project the Right Image—Develop a reputation for being trustworthy and look to raise your visibility
  7. Get a Mentor—Mentors can help you learn and push you out of your comfort zone 

If you want to keep it simple for students, start with this: Everyday, do one thing no one asks you to do. That alone will put you in the top 10 percent of any job you ever work in. I must credit author and comedian Jeff Havens for that one as that is a statement I firmly believe to be true. 

Final Message

To conclude, preach these five things to your student workers:

  1. Dominate “the little things”
  2. Build positive relationships
  3. Demonstrate professional communication skills
  4. Show consistency with your attitude
  5. Be proactive

Give your students the experience that SHOWS them how to overachieve and help them understand what it means to be in the top 10 percent. By doing so, you will get a better employee now, and they will be forever a better employee later.

 Upcoming February Blog: Managing Student Conflict in the Workplace