3 Ways Awesome Leaders Set and Manage Expectations

Within organizations and in life in general, setting and managing expectations is essential to success. In fact, the failure to set clear expectations is what ultimately leads to disappointment, underperforming, missing deadlines and the list of misses goes on.

As a leader, you need to be able to establish and communicate clear and achievable expectations. It’s one of the cornerstones of your job, and it’s the best way for you to ensure you're holding your people accountable in a meaningful way. Expectations provide guidelines and goals, allowing all parties to understand what is required of them to achieve successful, desired outcomes.

If you are having trouble with employees who are not meeting your expectations, you might want to look in the mirror first—have you set clear and proper expectations to set them up for success? Are you communicating what you expect, with timelines, and providing some context so your people can deliver accordingly?

Setting Clear Expectations Is Good Business

So, why is clear expectation setting and management so important?

  • Clear expectations make employees happier — When employees know precisely what is expected of them, they feel much more positive and at ease in their roles. They approach their work confidently and generally feel good about their abilities. They get things done, and they go home feeling a sense of accomplishment, all because there is no ambiguity about what is expected of them.
  • Clear expectations improve performance — When employees understand what is expected of them, they are far more likely to maximize their efforts and focus on tasks that will deliver and yield the desired results or expectations.
  • Clear expectations align priorities — Employees who understand expectations also understand the “why” behind their work, and they have a stronger sense of the proper order of operations when tackling their assignments.
  • Clear expectations bring organizational goals into focus — When expectations are conveyed clearly to employees, the more significant goals of the organization become much easier to understand. Clear expectations enhance the connection between what employees do daily and what the organization strives to achieve as a whole entity.
  • Clear expectations improve teamwork — When everyone in the office understands what is expected of them, it creates alignment, and everyone feels like they are on the same page. There is no confusion; only a sense that everyone is playing a part in working toward success that benefits the whole team.

At the end of the day, setting and managing expectations enhances your leadership and improves productivity, which, in turn, makes for a much healthier bottom line for your organization.

Communication Is Critical!

I believe expectation setting and management falls under the umbrella of communication. And if you know me, you know how firmly I believe in the power of excellent communication. Leaders who struggle with communication may also struggle with expectations, and they tend to be dissatisfied with the performance of their people and often wonder why that is the case.

Communication is something everyone, leaders in particular need to work on throughout their careers. Even those who are tremendously gifted at communication need to sharpen their skills from time to time. The key is to practice constant awareness of your ability to interact effectively with others.

The most significant mistake I see among leaders who fail at setting expectations is they assume that people know what is expected. Some leaders believe that expectations should be apparent and that they needn't be expressed. But this only leads to frustration, communication breakdown, and a broader chasm in the communication between employees and their managers.

How Awesome Leaders Set and Manage Expectations

If you're working on your communication skills and expressing your expectations, you may still be struggling with setting clear and concise expectations. Thankfully, I’ve got some great tips for you based on what today’s best leaders do when it comes to expectations!

#1 — Make Sure Employees Are Empowered to Question Expectations

Too often, I see leaders communicate expectations as if they are driving down a one-way street. They will approach an employee, express an expectation and then walk away without giving the employee a chance to ask questions. And when the employee fails to meet the expectation, both parties become frustrated, which perpetuates the spiral of ongoing poor communication. In this scenario, the manager can’t understand why the employee fails to follow instructions, while the employee feels intimidated and disempowered to ask for clarification or advice. The boss thinks they have an employee who doesn’t get it, and the employee believes they have a bad boss.

Expectations need to be agreed upon and clearly understood if they are to be managed and appropriately met. When you empower your employees to ask questions and collaborate on the collective expectations you have for them, it increases the likelihood that they will achieve their goals. More importantly, if you lead with vulnerability and empower your people to question you, the sky's the limit!

#2 — Don’t Leave Expectations Unspoken

I alluded to this one above, but I think it bears repeating. You would be surprised by how many leaders I’ve encountered who feel that their employees should be able to read their minds. This happens all the time with expectations, and it only continues the cycle of frustration and decreased productivity within organizations.

Don't assume that anything is evident within your organization and do not assume your people know what to expect from you and vice versa. For example, it may be clear that you requested a one-page summary from one of your employees, and they walk away assuming you asked for a comprehensive, ten-page report because you were not clear in what you wanted. Seen this happen before? Yes, it happens a lot, and we waste so much time and energy preparing unnecessary work by guessing what was intended. Your perspective, which no one else shares, determines your understanding of expectations. That's why it’s so crucial to communicate even the most obvious expectations with sufficient detail. Share and express your perspective, so they have a much clearer understanding of what you’re asking them to do. Trust me, they will appreciate it.

#3 — Expectation Setting Begins on Day One and Never Ends

Many expectations for employees should be set before they are even hired. Job descriptions should include essential functions, requirements, qualifications, and skills. Expectations should be expressed further during the interviewing and hiring process, as well as throughout orientation. And they should be revisited and communicated regularly throughout your ongoing one-on-one's—it's a never-ending process.

Remember—communication should flow in all directions, and dialogue within your organization should be ongoing. That goes double for expectations!

How Are You Handling Expectations Within Your Organization?

Do you struggle with setting and managing expectations? Do you feel your leadership is suffering because of an inability to express what's required of the people on your team? Are you fed up with employees who never complete projects in a manner consistent with your expectations?

I am here to help you understand what it takes to set and manage expectations in a way that transforms your leadership—and your organization. I know what it takes to bring leaders to the next level when it comes to communication, and I’d love to talk with you about how we can collaborate on solutions for your organization.

Send me an email at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca if you are interested in learning more. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Ready to partner with LeadersEdge to drive organizational performance?

connect with us