Do you know what you want from your employees? A study from Gallup found that 50 percent of managers don’t. For this reason, only half of the people on their teams said they know exactly what’s expected of them at work.
Clarity is the biggest gift you can give yourself and others. Without it, an organization quickly escalates into chaos. As a result, this can cause all types of problems like miscommunication, lack of productivity, burnout, frustration, and low retention rates.
No business owner wants to suffer these costly repercussions. Yet, the reality is, creating clarity often tumbles down the to-do list when you’re running a fast-paced, ever-changing company. Entrepreneurs and executives can also have a visibility bias. For instance, they forget that their team doesn’t have the same knowledge about the moving pieces of the company as they do. Yet, as John Maxwell states in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “If your people don’t know what to expect from you as a leader, at some point they won’t look to you for leadership.”
Well-defined expectations produce effective teams that have employees who know the role they play and the purpose they serve. When leaders take the time to set expectations, they create conditions for more growth, freedom, and happiness in their business.
Below, take a moment and learn seven ways of setting clear expectations with your employees.
Table of Contents
1. Define What They Are
“Clear is kind.”Brene Brown
The first step in setting expectations is determining what they are before communicating them. Expectations will likely vary based on different factors like a person’s position and how long they’ve been with the company. Nevertheless, create a sense of unity and cohesiveness at work by developing common expectations based on organizational values.
For instance, when working with the Navy SEALs, leadership expert Simon Sinek found the organization’s top performance measurement is trust. Although relationship-building skills like trust are incredibly important to business success, they’re something Sinek says companies have, “negligible to no metrics to measure.” This is why it’s important for business leaders to sit down and think about this aspect of their company.
Some common expectations defined by leaders include:
- Holding oneself accountable for responsibilities and duties
- Completing work on time
- Being a positive influence on others
- Showing a hunger to serve
- Participating in team projects
- Acting as a proactive problem-solver
- Adhering to company values, policies, and rules
- Handling work conflict in a professional manner
2. Connect Your “Why” to Your Employee’s “Why“
To feel fulfilled and work their best every day, people need to know why what they do matters. For instance, Google’s Project Aristotle, a study on what makes a great team, found that: “Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness.”
As the head of the company, it’s your job to develop, challenge, and guide your team members toward accomplishing their full potential. Communicating the meaning behind your expectations helps individuals understand how their impact extends far beyond being a source of labor. Like Jim Goodnight, CEO and co-founder of SAS Institute, says, “Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.”
Give work purpose by:
- Reiterating the overall vision of the company
- Tying tasks to the big picture
- Describing how work positively impacts customers and clients
- Setting the standard that every person plays a vital role in the business
- Explaining how each team member contributes to the company’s success
3. Communicate Expectations in Person and on Paper
After defining your expectations and determining the purpose behind them, you can start meeting with employees to talk about guidelines. But for expectations to truly come across, they’ll need to be in writing, too. Handing out a hard copy of expectations gives team members something they can refer back to and store in their long-term memory.
Having a record of the conversation is also good because it limits excuses and room for interpretation. In addition to this, it holds both employees and their employers accountable for adhering to what’s been discussed. Entrepreneurs and executives with busy schedules won’t likely remember every conversation they’ve had with their team. For this reason, putting expectations into writing helps you keep track of what has or hasn’t been communicated.
Verify expectations by:
- Having a team meeting before starting new projects
- Providing clarity around each individual’s role
- Discussing responsibilities for every team member
- Clearly describing metrics of success
- Providing a paper copy of what was covered
4. Be Consistent
If a CEO operates in an inconsistent manner, they set the expectation that this behavior is acceptable. Behavioral statistician Joseph Folkman shares one of his studies with Forbes, finding this type of leadership creates a perception of lacking good judgment, being untrustworthy, failing to achieve goals, and resisting improvement. Clearly, this can have a devastating effect on a company. For instance, inconsistency lowers productivity, morale, and followers.
While most CEOs and entrepreneurs move fast, it’s important for your team to feel a sense of stability. Trusting teams can’t develop unless a leader creates an environment of consistency. Changing it up too much or too often breeds stress and distrust—making people feel like the company isn’t on solid ground.
Create a stable work environment by:
- Modeling strong leadership qualities for the team
- Practicing change management
- Honoring your word (for example, providing a raise if you said you would)
- Seeing new initiatives through to completion
- Using the words “work emergency” and “rush deadline” only when they truly apply
- Eliminating workflows that cause employees to “hurry up and wait”
5. Create Rhythms
As best-selling leadership author John C. Maxwell says: “The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” Structuring your workday with good habits and pre-determined routines is one of the best strategies to use as you develop a successful business.
Not only does time management organize an entrepreneur’s or executive’s schedule, it also helps with setting employee expectations. For instance, say your company has a meeting on Mondays at 9:00 a.m. Because this is a weekly event, there’s automatically an expectation that team members need to be on time and energetically present every Monday morning.
Continue developing a great organizational work flow by:
- Setting regular times for daily or weekly roundups
- Explaining ahead of time what will be covered (this increases engagement and participation)
- Starting each meeting with a quick overview of the agenda
- Communicating your schedule, so employees can self-manage, but also know when they can check-in
- Sticking to decided upon work rhythms as a means of creating company habits
6. Establish Realistic Timelines
As a leader, it’s your job to create high-quality results. Unmanageable deadlines produce poor working conditions that cause stress, burnout, anxiety, and hostility. While there might be certain times employees need to speed up production, this type of workflow shouldn’t be the status quo.
More often than not, grinding through projects only negatively impacts your customers, your employees, and you. For example, launching a full website and funnel in three weeks isn’t a realistic expectation. Firstly, the timeframe doesn’t match the amount of work required. Secondly, some team members will miss their deadline. Lastly, it leaves no room for a quality check to ensure everything is working properly. In the end, an impossible-to-meet date of completion will leave employees frazzled and customers disappointed.
Develop the conditions for great work by:
- Using discovery exercises with key players to set attainable timelines
- Consulting with the project manager
- Having a timeline discussion before contractors or employees begin working
- Developing an open channel for regular communication with team leaders
- Getting updates on roadblocks or changes
- Extending deadlines as new tasks or initiatives get added
7. Affirm Expectations are Clear and Agreed Upon
Setting expectations with employees is a part of the relationship-building process. Instead of providing a list of guidelines and responsibilities, turn this meeting into a conversation between two people. One way to do this is by letting team members know they’re welcome to ask questions, voice concerns, and suggest ideas throughout the discussion.
Before leaving the meeting, reaffirm what’s expected. Then, ask employees if they’re okay with being accountable for this. Be open to listening to team members if they express they might not be able to meet the measures you’ve set. For instance, maybe the deadline for a new task conflicts with another project they’re working on. If there are problems, work through them with the employee before leaving the meeting so you both have clarity moving forward.
Ensure everyone is on the same page by:
- Addressing any confusion, hesitation, or resistance
- Giving employees the opportunity to discuss their thoughts
- Asking team members if they feel comfortable being accountable for these expectations
- Setting up a time to check back in on progress
What Does Your Team Expect from You?
As Steve Jobs once said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” This means going above and beyond when it comes to demonstrating the expectations you set. If you ask your employees to give 100 percent, that means you need to be an example of giving 120 percent.
Just like employers have expectations of their employees, employees have expectations of their employer. When setting these, don’t forget to communicate your plan for showing up as a leader. Discuss the role you’ll be playing to help them achieve their goals and performance metrics. Whether providing resources and support or building them up as leaders through mentorship, make it clear you’re there to ensure they have everything they need to succeed.
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