In our work as executive coaches, we often hear leaders talk about the importance of setting clear expectations, but either they fail to take action or know how to do it effectively. This article is the third in Team Trek’s Developing People series. We will take you through the who, what, when, why and how of setting clear expectations.
When do we set expectations?
Always set clear expectations with new hires, with any change in role and responsibilities, when assigning a new project, and during the annual performance appraisal. Likewise, remember to set clear expectations at the beginning and end of all meetings, whether they are one-on-one or group meetings. Whenever we expect others to take action, it’s important we set clear expectations.
Why set expectations?
As leaders and managers, we often assume that people should know what’s expected of them – and therefore we don’t have to tell them. This assumption could not be further from the truth. Not only is it incorrect, but also it’s unfair to the individual, to the team, and to the organization. Sometimes we’re not clear about the desired outcomes ourselves, so setting clear expectations has the added benefit of helping us to focus on desired outcomes.
What types of expectations should be set?
We assume people have up-to-date job descriptions, so our focus on setting expectations is not on job responsibilities. However, some expectations impact those job responsibilities or tasks and others impact relationships. For example, we may expect our direct reports to set-up a bi-weekly staff meeting with us or to submit expense reports within a specified time frame (tasks.) On the other hand, we may expect our direct reports to not triangulate and to resolve differences directly with the people involved (relationships.)
Who do we set expectations for?
The simple answer is to set expectations whenever we ask another person or a group to take action. This would include, but is not limited to, our direct reports, team members, peers, and even in certain circumstances, our manager. It would also include people who provide us with products and services, such as suppliers and consultants. As executive coaches, we set expectations for our clients every time we meet. We also set expectations in our personal lives for our children, family, friends, and service providers.
How do we set clear expectations?
Be clear and specific with ourselves about what we expect
Always include timelines
Decide whether to set expectations verbally, in writing, or both
Communicate in a clear, non-fuzzy, direct manner
Use language that will be understood and be aware of body language
Check for understanding by asking for a recap, either verbal or written
Clarify, if necessary
Confirm new understanding
Ask for commitment
Hold people accountable for keeping the commitments they make
Follow-up on a regular basis
Setting clear expectations is a shared responsibility. As leaders, we are responsible for following the above guidelines. But, other people are also responsible for receiving the information. If they are unclear about what’s being said, they need to check out what they’ve heard and ask for examples. As executive coaches, we expect our clients to be responsible, so we ask them to follow-up with us in a timely manner. We want responsibility to rest squarely on their shoulders, not ours. And we sometimes ask, tell me your expectations. It’s another way we evaluate their learnings. We can always modify or add to their learnings, but we’re in the business of developing people – and so are you.
Team Trek is a world-class provider of leadership training, team building, coaching and culture programs. Go to www.teamtrek.com/subscribe to receive the next Journal in your inbox.