Ten Ways to Set Clear Expectations

Too often, managers seem to lead through mental telepathy. Rather than set and communicate clear expectations—the milestones against which we test our progress—they assume their employees know what to do and how to do it. What results is hesitation, indecision and uncertainty. Healthy teamwork, initiative and productivity go out the window.  

Properly setting expectations for employees or team members is a critical dimension in quality workplaces, according to a huge study of managers undertaken in the 1990s by The Gallup Organization. Below are some tips on setting clear expectations that will set standards for excellence and results. 

 1. Start with a vision of what you want the end result to look like. Not just what you want done, but the results you want to achieve when the project is completed.

 2. Discuss how you define “excellent performance.” Paint a complete picture. Refer to your performance review form. Don’t assume.

 3. Keep your focus on the desired outcomes, not on describing each and every step to follow. Your goal is to guide, not control. Letting individuals find their own route toward productive outcomes encourages them to use their strengths to their fullest potential.

 4. Tie the mission of the department to each job. People want to know that their role, whether large or small, makes a difference.

 5. Put the expectations in writing.

 6. Stay on the sideline. You may be tempted to run in and play the game for a subordinate, but if you do, no one will learn a thing.

 7. Give feedback—and often! The annual performance review is too late to let staff members know how they are meeting your expectations. Schedule informal review time weekly (up to quarterly for larger departments). Feedback given along the way sounds more like coaching, not like punishment.

 8. Ask for staff members’ feedback on how they think they are doing. The more two-way communication, the greater the clarity around the expectations. 

 9. Give positive reinforcement (and don’t mix negative and positive). Mention the thing you like and you’ll get more of it. Be specific and prompt.

 10. Don’t take it personally. When staff members don’t perform as you think they should have, look for solutions, not blame. 

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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