How is setting expectations a critical leadership skill?
Research states one of the top reasons for unhappiness in the workplace is communication issues with one’s manager/supervisor. One of the key shortcomings for this case lies with the managers. Very often managers make incorrect assumptions that employees have all of the information needed about what needs to be done, without having been told how things work. Yet, if asked, the employees will give you a completely different picture about what is expected of them. Due to this evident disconnect, the employee fails to deliver the expected results, and the manager ends up blaming the employee. Resentment follows thereafter, leading to poor performance.
This is why it’s critical for you as a manager to get everyone on the same page, and to set the expectations clearly at the beginning of your professional journey together. In an article1, Kevin Eikenberry describes 4 main areas in which you need to clarify the expectations for your team.
The 4 key areas to setting expectations
Work – It’s imperative for your team to know exactly what is expected of them. There is a basic job description that a person is informed of when they join the team, however the unwritten rules about the level of quality expected in the work, and the depth of knowledge that needs to be exhibited, are what defines a successful work project. What are the boundaries of an employee’s responsibilities? What are and what aren’t the roles of the job? These things include, and even go beyond, the job description. For optimum performance and strong working relationships, these expectations must all be clearly communicated, understood and mutually agreed upon.
Communication – Communication is one of the most critical components of organizational life, and it is far too important to leave to chance. Everyone operates based on their preferences and their habits, which might be in conflict or different from the work habits and preferences of others in the organization. Setting the rules of conduct helps employees navigate the workspace more efficiently and confidently.
What’s the preferred way of communicating, both formally and informally? What needs to be communicated to all, and what can be handled at the employee level? What should be the frequency of communication? What particular information should be shared in each of the different mediums of communication? What are the protocols for communication at different levels – while reporting to the manager or even upper management?
Time – When working in tandem with multiple people on multiple tasks, it’s important to keep track of your time and that of the others working with you. Clarity is required in terms of expected response times to requests from different levels in the firm. Make sure also to clarify what the work-times of other team members are, in case you’re working in a virtual or international team.
Culture – Defining the corporate culture is an important component to clarify for the team when managing expectations. Be it first time employees or experienced hires, they bring their past experience and habits with them. If those experiences and habits differ from the organizational culture, non-clarification can lead to poor performance (perceived or reality) and to interpersonal conflicts. It’s the responsibility of the manager to make sure that the organizational principles, behaviors, values, and overall expectations are clarified.
Evaluating Performance Expectations
After clarifying all expectations, it’s best to have a checklist to affirm whether you and your team are in accord with the expectations. According to John Baldoni2, there’s a 3-question checklist managers should ask themselves:
- Does your team know what’s expected of them? It’s important to have your team paraphrase what has been told to them. Have a conversation to test their understanding of the expectations shared with them. People may know the specifics, but often lack knowledge about how what they do helps the entire organization.
- Have you told your team what they can expect from you? It’s important to let employees know that you as their manager are available to them. It’s important they know how and when to reach out to you, and that you are accessible to them as a knowledgeable resource. For new hires, the role would be more as a teacher than as a boss. For experienced hires, you will have to be a coach and help them unlearn and relearn the behavioral and cultural aspects of their job. For the team, you will be the supplier of resources as well as their champion.
- Do employees know what is expected of each other? In a team everyone has defined roles and responsibilities, so it’s also important that everyone knows how their work affects their colleagues and how to work in tandem to achieve team/organizational goals.
Communicating expectations in a clear way enhances relationships because your team is confident in their manager and can react and communicate directly in all aspects of their position. This clarity prevents employees from having to do rework or getting blamed for not meeting unclear or changing expectations. When expectations are communicated with the right amount of direction or delegation, depending on the person and the situation, employee ownership is further developed.