Creating Great Managers Part 4: Setting Clear Expectations

According to Gallup, the most important factor of employee engagement is the employee’s clear understanding of what is expected of them at work. Without clear goals and expectations, employees can feel unsure of where they stand, how they are measured or how they are performing. Furthermore, leaders can experience related frustration when goals, expectations or performance anticipations are misunderstood or missed. Do you want to be a great manager? It’s essential to understand not only the importance of expectations, but what could happen as a result of failing to communicate them properly.

If you want your team to deliver based on an expectation, you must clearly outline both the results you are looking for and how you will measure their progress. It can be very disappointing to employees to find out that what they are doing is not what was expected or hearing at their annual review that you have had unspoken issues with their performance. The challenge here is that most of us have the intentions of clearly communicating and believe we are — no manager sets out with the intention of being ambiguous or vague, but data shows that most employees in the workforce today do not clearly understand what is expected of them at work.

How can you ensure that you are being clear? At Cosgrove Partners we believe in a simple repeatable framework many of you may be familiar with that helps to drive out ambiguity and lean on transparency to enable alignment between leaders and their teams. All expectations should meet SMART criteria:

Specific- Is the objective precise and well defined? Can everyone understand it? Are details outlined?
Measurable- How will the individual know if the task as been completed? What evidence exists to confirm it? Do they understand how it will be evaluated?
Achievable- Is this within their capabilities? Do they have sufficient resources to enable it to happen?
Realistic- How sensible is the objective in the current business environment? Does it fit into the overall pattern of the individuals’ role?
Timely- Is there a deadline? Is the deadline feasible? Is it appropriate to prioritize this now? What are the review dates and milestones?

Once expectations are defined, prioritize these conversations with employees and once you have explained or delivered expectations, ask them to repeat expectations back to you to ensure they have internalized. As with many employee discussions, paper trails always help as well. After you have a conversation around the expectations, send your team the expectations in writing, so they have something to refer to when you are not together or available. Good managers tend to lean on the side of over-communicating.  This inspires independence and autonomy in your reports and provides flexibility for you as a leader.

Prioritize setting expectations for behavior and results and communicate any ongoing concerns or praise through regular employee coaching sessions.

To conclude, follow the following tips for setting expectations:

  • Drive out ambiguity. When discussing an assignment or task with someone you manage, clearly state what you expect and ask the person to state any questions or concerns up front. Address those questions or concerns clearly and honestly.
  • Consistently demonstrate that you honor true effort. Your direct reports will not always achieve stated goals or deliver exactly as expected. If you know that they gave their all, honor that effort as you then examine what obstacles may have prevented the expected results.
  • Be generous with praise. You simply cannot give enough recognition to people who are doing a good job.