You can bet that if you do not set and manage expectations, drama will invite itself in for an extended visit. When people do not know what is expected, they will create their own expectations – and they most likely will not align across the organization. Disagreements and controversy ensue, causing chaos and distraction from driving positive results. While setting and managing expectations may seem time consuming, the cost – in time, effort, and drama – of not doing so far exceeds that of being responsible and clearly letting people know what you expect of them.
Before you, as a leader, can hold people accountable for outcomes, you have to let them know what success looks like and what you expect to see as a result of their efforts. If everyone knows what is expected, the focus is on driving for results and monitoring against set standards. The benefit of setting and managing expectations is twofold:
- Clear, concise expectations drive actions and decisions.
- Explicit expectations are a primary driver of success.
If you fail to create an environment where expectations are well understood and respected by your people, you are highly unlikely to develop a high-performing organization… or deliver strong business results.
Expectations are like the rules in the board game Sorry! When everyone knows the “rules” or “expectations”, some may try and cheat (like my husband, who can’t stand to lose), but the other players will hold the cheater accountable. When no one knows the rules, it is impossible to be accountable, much less hold anyone else accountable to anything. Organizations are no different – if you want your players to know how to play to win and hold others accountable, you are responsible for setting and managing expectations.
When setting expectations, consider these four principles:
Expectations should focus on outcomes, not activities. Leaders often make the mistake of attempting to direct the process that will be used, rather than focusing on the desired outcome. As a leader, you should be responsible for identifying the goal, while the employee (or the team) is then responsible for developing how to meet or exceed expectations.
Relevance helps define the “why” of what is expected. If employees have complete understanding of the importance of what they are asked to deliver, they will be more committed to the result because they see how it fits into the big picture, as well as how their efforts impact the company.
Simplicity creates a sense of grounding for both individuals and teams. If you identify what is expected in simple, straightforward terms, there is a clear understanding of exactly what is expected.
After setting expectations, you must maintain a consistent approach to managing expectations that can be applied in most situations. This facilitates a sense of unity and equality, and will bolster morale across the organization.
Now, let’s consider three important components to managing expectations: