Setting Clear Expectations

“People rise and fall to meet your level of expectations for them. If you express skepticism and doubt in others, they will return your lack of confidence with mediocrity. But if you believe in them and expect them to do well, they will go the extra mile trying to do their best.”

John C. Maxwell

As a leader setting clear expectations is one of your many responsibilities. The lack of doing so can have unproductive side-effects:

  • Increased time to complete a task/project
  • Project/task not completed correctly
  • Increased frustration from all parties involved
  • Decreased employee engagement

The question, “Do I know what is expected me at work?” is one of the questions used by Gallup to measure employee engagement. What percentage of people do you think receive the information they need to do their job well? The answer 53% (Source: 30 Reasons Why Employees Hate Their Managers, Bruce L. Latcher with Adam Snyder). There are many opportunities to set clear expectations. If you want to be a leader that sets clear expectations, start looking for those opportunities. Below are a few examples:

  • New Employee: When a new team member starts you have a great opportunity to set them up for success. Spend time clarifying their role and responsibilities and what you expect of them with the first 30 to 90 days.  
  • Task/Project: As a leader, you are continually assigning new work to other individuals. When doing so, take a few minutes to consider what non-negotiables of the task/project you would like to communicate. This will help you clarify your minimum expectations.   
  • Performance Reviews: Often employees want to know what it takes to achieve a higher score on their performance reviews because it influences their compensation and/or opportunity for promotion. Be prepared for these conversations and communicate the difference between what meets and what exceeds expectations as soon as you can.  

Taking the opportunity will get you closer to providing clear expectations but you will also have to be effective at communicating those expectations. If you take the opportunity and are vague, the opportunity is lost. Consider the following to help you get clearer on what you expect.

  • Leverage available tools and resources. Your organization may have role mandates, job descriptions and performance review forms that you can use as a guide when communicating your expectations.
  • Use the 5Ws and 1H: Who should be involved? What specifically does success look like? Where does the work need to take place? When does the work need to be completed by? Why is this work important (this does not clarify expectations, but it is critical for getting them to understand the importance of their efforts)? How should the work get completed? Keep asking yourself questions until you have many of the answers the other will need to exceed your expectations.
  • Clarify activity and behaviour. Getting the work done is great but what happens if they ruin relationships along the way, get bogged down in analysis or don’t collaborate with others. Get clear about your expectations by including what you expect from a behavioural perspective: efficient, effective, collaborative, informed, considerate, detailed, persistent.

As a leader the question is not if you set expectations, the question is how well do you set expectations and what impact does it have? Improve how well you set expectations by looking for the opportunities and clearly communicating expectations. If you want to verify your expectations have been understood, ask for the other to restate what they heard.


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