Why setting expectations is important

On a workshop I was running last week on core management skills, one of the topics we covered was setting expectations.

It’s easy to assume everyone knows what’s expected of them, but a lack of clear direction can be confusing and leads to uncertainty for your team members, inconsistencies for your customers and frustration for you.

This echoes one of the challenges I often hear when I’m working with line managers, that is, not everyone delivers what’s expected. But when we delve deeper we often realise expectations have never been clearly communicated. Managers have simply assumed everyone knows.

And when expectations are not clear and shared, simple misunderstandings become compounded, potentially turning into personality clashes and communication breakdowns.

Be specific

The more specific you are about the tangible and measurable indicators, the easier it will be for team members to measure their success. What does great look like, sound like or feel like for you? What criteria are you using to measure performance?

Quantitative standards or pointers are easier to interpret than qualitative ones. For example, if you want customers’ email enquiries responded to ‘asap’, specify in how many minutes, hours or days. When it comes to qualitative standards, it can be far more open to personal interpretation, so giving examples and/or demonstrations can be helpful.

When you need someone to change what or how they are currently doing something, be prepared to make the comparison between the preferred way and the old way. It’s often subtle little nuances that make all the difference to reflect your culture or improve productivity.

Unless the process is critical (e.g. for legal or safely reasons) focus on what you need people to achieve i.e. the end result, rather than dictating how to do it. This allows them flexibility to adopt their own style and what feels most comfortable for them, rather than living in fear of not being able to comply with strict processes. That way you’ll get more ownership of the task.

And you may be pleasantly surprised by how often they end up improving the process.

If you only do one thing:

Ensure everyone understands the end result you’re aiming for and why.

Setting expectations with employees video