Years back Charles Dickens wrote GREAT EXPECTATIONS about an orphan named Pip and his personal development. The successful development of our organizations and teams has more to do with CLEAR expectations. As leaders, we need to define clearly what is expected of the team and be clear about what they can expect from us.Setting expectations for your team can be uncomfortable, especially if you haven’t previously had a well-defined structure in place. You may need to be very careful to clarify that the changes are happening to help the entire team enjoy the work more and multiply energy. Even if it is uncomfortable, press through. Remember, “fail to plan means to plan to fail.” Without clear expectations in place, you’re setting yourself up for certain issues and misunderstanding down the road.There are at least three good reasons to define clear expectations:
They keep employees focused. It is extremely easy for a team to replay work and waste time on things that have already been covered, or that aren’t even the focus. When everyone knows who is expected to do what, there is no duplication of effort. The Gallup organization reports that employees who are aware of specific goals from their leaders are more engaged, happier and they stay around longer.
They defuse frustration. Unclear expectations are one of the top sources of frustration for employees. The level of frustration rises even more if there is a significant change going on. A survey from ComPsych reported 31% of employees cited “unclear expectations from supervisors” as their number one work-related stressor. It’s a two-way street as well. Managers feel frustrated when the team isn’t performing well enough, but no one actually knows what well enough is. Clear expectations lower frustration for everyone.
They enable constructive criticism and goal-markers. Performance reviews cause much anxiety and misunderstanding in a company. You can eliminate whole lot of the anxiety from the process by setting periodic goal checks and evaluation, not of people, but of where a particular project is. Without expectations, emotions will rule the day. If an employee is well-liked, it’s tougher to point out their poor performance. If an employee is not well-liked, the judgment can be harsh. Periodic checks make the process objective; either the goal was met or it wasn’t, and the consequences of that are already understood by everyone involved.
How can you communicate crystal clear expectations with those that you lead?First, make the expectations clear for yourself. You can’t make anything clear to another person if it isn’t clear first to you. If you can’t clearly articulate them verbally or on paper, you won’t lead well.Second, be clear about where you need expectations. Think about where the gaps are – Are they in the work itself? How we will communicate? What is our timing?Third, define specific expectations. A good set of expectations is not abstract, like “make more sales.” It is clear and well-defined, like “increase sales by 10% by August 31.” Make them SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timed. Meet and discuss them with at least one other person to see if someone else understands them as clear and complete.Fourth, make it mutual. As a leader, you have expectations of others they need to know and not have to guess so they can succeed. They have expectations of you that you need to know as well. The conversation about expectations needs to be a true dialogue. – so that both of you understand each other’s expectations and so that you can more towards agreement.Fifth, communicate with no room for confusion. Popping your head in an employee’s door on your way out to lunch is not an appropriate way to communicate expectations. Better to put them in writing so there are no questions later on. An email or one-page works well here. We aren’t talking a legal document here, but we all know that things written down allow for greater clarity, and without things being written down we must rely on memory. If you want clearly defined, mutually understood expectations, they must be written down.Sixth, agree and commit. Once you have them written, both parties need to read them to make sure they are understood and agreed to. Then both parties must commit to each other that they agree with them, and will live with them in the future. The lack of clearly understood expectation is the source of much strife in relationships, the cause of most conflicts, and the beginning of poor organizational performance.Seventh, set realistic goals. As leaders, we always want to see smooth and steady progress, but goals that are too large or too rapid can actually have a discouraging effect on employees. Especially in the beginning, focus on small, achievable milestones, or break long-term goals into several short-term ones.Eighth, view regularly, focus on wins. Expectations only work if there’s someone holding you accountable for them! Make check-ins a regular part of your workplace schedule; this might take the form of a monthly all-team meeting, a 30 minute conference call at the start of every week, or smaller, department-specific meetings among managers and their immediate teams. Don’t just focus on where employees are falling short. Emphasize wins and give praise accordingly.Putting in place an expectations system for your team doesn’t have to be an overwhelming load of new work. It could be as simple as meeting and getting everyone on the same page. But if you start expecting, communicating clearly and positively, following up, and rewarding, expectations that are well-defined will change your company.