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The Importance of Setting Clear Expectations

As usual at this crazy time, I trust that you and those who are important to you are keeping well. This week’s tip is all about expectations and why they are important, whether you are a leader, manager or a parent. It seems to me that they fall into two separate categories. Firstly, and especially if you are a leader or manager, are performance expectations; the results that your team are required to achieve. The second type of expectation has the title of behavioural; how you expect people to behave in a given context, be that personal or professional.

Importance of Clear Expectations

I believe that expectations are important, nay critical because without them people are unclear about what they need to do. This can not only undermine performance and results within a team but can also impact negatively on employee engagement, relationships and teamwork.

Importance of Clear Expectations - Eagle Training

Example of why clear expectations are important

My LinkedIn buddy Geoff Burch, a well-renowned motivational and sales expert, tells the story of when he was a manager on a small building project. He went onto the site and found three of his workers; two of whom had been with him for years and a young man who was new to the company but who, Geoff said, had a spark in his eye.

“What are you doing?” Geoff asked one of the old-timers. “I’m laying bricks guv, cause I’m a bricklayer you see”.

“Why are you here?” Geoff asked the second old-timer. “For £10 an hour” replied the man.

“And you, what are you doing?” he asked the young man.

“I’m building a place where the sick can be cured. I’m building a place where ill people can be made well again so they can return to their families and friends.”

Geoff was deeply touched and humbled by this young man’s visionary answer and a tear appeared in his eye.

“Sadly I had to fire him though,” said Geoff, “Because we were actually building a petrol station!”

Now, as Geoff freely admits, much of the blame rested with him because he didn’t make his expectations clear. He’s right. How can you hold someone accountable if you have not first formed your clear expectations of them? So, setting expectations is a critical step in the accountability process.

Ways of making sure that expectations are clear

In their book ‘How Did That Happen?Roger Connors and Tom Smith outline a way of making sure that expectations are clear. It involves three discussions that cover:

  • Communicating the expectation that you have of the person – This might sound simple, but have you ever noticed that what you think you have said is not what the other person thinks they have heard? Once you have shared your proposed expectations with your team you might want to get their input and feedback. This will ensure that there is mutual understanding and that you gain their commitment and support to ensure effective implementation.
  • Clarifying the boundaries – Ensure that the other person or the team are absolutely clear on the boundaries upfront. This will avoid people being inhibited by boundaries that do not actually exist. It will also prevent them from overstepping boundaries that do exist, thereby causing problems of a different kind. This conversation can also prevent ‘scope creep’, an expansion of the task you are giving the person or team.
  • Establishing available support – This conversation clarifies the support that is available to those who you expect to deliver on your expectation. When people really understand what support, both tangible and intangible, they will probably feel more comfortable that they can overcome the obstacles that crop up along the way.

This process is an effective way to establish the ‘what’ of your expectation. You will obviously need to clarify the when expectation; i.e. being clear in terms of time. Never assume that peoples’ timescales will be the same as yours unless you make them clear to them.

It is worth noting that many serious employee relations problems including grievances, destructive conflict and unfair dismissal claims which can be very costly for the organisation are down to unclear expectations and standards.

Finally, if your expectations are high, most people will strive to achieve these expectations. While I am all for setting stretch targets that inspire and challenge people please remember that if you overstretch people, they may well burn out and you may well undermine their motivation, performance and wellbeing.

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