In leadership, managing expectations is paramount. Marketing, job descriptions, rules of engagement, and vision-casting are all examples of setting expectations. Meetings often start with expectations. Event planning or building construction also begin with expectations and goals. Miscommunication or wrong assumptions usually take place as a result of poorly set or communicated expectations. Every day in leadership involves setting, managing and correcting expectations. When evaluating the failure of a program or project, leaders trace the path back to the beginning and determine what expectations were set and what went wrong. A reset of expectations are necessary when starting a new leadership job or inheriting a new employee.
Here are four tips in managing expectations.
Written expectations are essential to keep everyone on the same page – literally. Having these set in writing alleviates potential miscommunication in the transmission or reception of the message to the recipients. This can also be a tool in communicating with a larger group and a reference point for a project review along the way. If the outcome is less than ideal, the entire team can review the documented expectations to determine what went wrong. Similarly, a performance review should include reference to a job description to evaluate if the employee is meeting expectations and how they can improve moving forward.
This may be the most obvious and simplest form of communicating expectations: talk about them! Examples of verbalizing expectations include meeting with an employee to discuss how they should perform or approach a situation or describing a culture of service at a team meeting. This can be a formal speech, a team briefing, a coaching session with an individual or a passing comment or word of encouragement to an employee. Be purposeful in this by scheduling it into your day and not leaving it to an accidental encounter.
Consistency is key. If you expect a certain type of behavior from your team or within your organization, you need to walk the talk. Remember that in leadership, people are watching and imitating you. If you expect employees to smile and greet every customer that enters the store, then you should do the same when given the opportunity. One of my favorite examples of this is an old photo of Walt Disney picking up trash at Disneyland. Walt was fastidious about cleanliness and wanted Disneyland to be the nicest amusement park. As a leader, you are not above the same work you expect out of your team. You will earn the respect of others when you lead from example.
Periodically and at the end of a program or project, it is important to evaluate to see if you hit the target or are on track to hit it. Evaluation is critical for team members that should receive feedback on their performance. Every healthy organization or program should have built in triggers to prompt feedback. These may be in the form of an annual review or leadership retreat. It could also be a year-end or semester review or a part of your budget process. This input should include reference to the written expectations to be clear that the original vision is being met or has been achieved. Looking back will provide important intelligence that should shape the future or next steps of your leadership.
Even if you are not in a leadership position, you can help yourself be successful by asking your supervisor to define expectations. If the boss verbally communicates these expectations to you, try emailing him or her back and summarize the expectations in writing. This could be a simple and winsome email… “Thank you for taking time to meet with me today. I understand that you expect me to… Is this correct?”
Once you start to think in terms of expectations, you will not be able to go back. Each situation and problem can be evaluated as to how expectations were set or managed (or not). The key for leaders is to establish and communicate clear expectations early on in order to set the team up for success. Everyone should know what the target is, the direction the organization is heading and how success will be defined. You owe it to your people, your organization and your own success.
As a leader, how do you establish or generate expectations? Does this inspiration come from imagination or examples?