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setting expectations

3 Steps You Can Implement to Aid in Setting Expectations

There is a reason why people set expectations in both life and work and it is simply so that people know what to anticipate, and don’t hope for something they aren’t going to receive/achieve/earn/etc.  Setting expectations removes the guesswork from a situation.  It allows all those involved to stop wasting precious brain power on the “what-if’s” and the “maybes” and it allows them to focus on a clear path of action to a desired and previously determined end-result.  Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?  Sometimes setting expectations with others is harder than you think.

At work, a manager may tell an employee what they want them to do, and when they want it done by.  In the manager’s mind, this is a clear conversation of assigning a task and then moving on to something else.  In the employee’s eyes, it may not be quite as clear-cut as the manager had originally intended.  People don’t always communicate the same way, and sometimes what Joe says is not what Steve hears.  Bringing clarity and structure into the original conversation can help to take the guesswork out of the expectation of the work to be completed and the desired outcome.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Over-communicate the goal: This might sound odd, because in our ever-moving, ever-changing world, we take very few minutes and words to get our points across.  We sum it up in 45 characters or less, and move on with our lives.  In the instance of setting clear expectations with your team, you can’t over-communicate enough.  Employees can’t see the vision in your manager-brain.  They don’t know that the task you gave them relates to a larger picture and bigger goal than just their one piece.  Share your whole vision; let the employee know why their part is important to the greater good.  Tell them why you want it done, how you want it done and when you want it done by.  If this is a mission-critical type task, don’t leave this all for one conversation. Be repetitive and take the time to sit down and converse about it.
  2. Motivate, but don’t micromanage: I’m sure there is a quickest and easiest way in your manager-brain that you’d love to paint a detailed, step-by-step path for your employee of how to do it your way. If they are a new employee, you may need to do that as a part of setting expectations, but with a seasoned employee it may be demeaning and demoralizing.  Set guidelines, boundaries, structure…what the timeline is and how the end results should look.  If there is an adverse effect of them not completing the goal on time, share that as well – hold them accountable.  Check in periodically for status updates and give feedback, but don’t stand over their shoulder while they take each step. Build trust that is vital in the workplace.
  3. Get their buy-in: Agree on the end result, and how you both plan to get there.  Don’t dictate and walk away.  Get their input, answer their questions, and make sure the goal is an achievable one based on the employee’s work load, duties, and timing. In other words, don’t set them up to fail.  Give them a voice and let them be heard.  Clearly agree upon the expectation before leaving the employee to get started.  Have them repeat it back to you if you are unsure that they have fully grasped it.

Expectations are funny things; high expectations can be an excellent motivator to help drive someone to accomplish great things.  High expectations can also be a bad thing if they are unrealistic or impossible to achieve.  Setting expectations is a process that begins with identifying a goal, outlining a plan to achieve the goal, and allocating the right resources to make that happen.  When any of the pieces of that formula are missing – failure can be certain.  However, once those pieces are in place, the next step is to clearly set the expectations of your team to start pushing towards the goal.


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