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Top 10 Ways for Setting Clear Expectations for Your Team

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership”.

~ Peter Drucker.


Too often, managers assume their teams can read their minds. Their teams think the leaders are trying to lead through mental telepathy.

Rather than setting and communicating clear expectations—the metrics against which we measure our progress—these leaders assume their employees know what to do and how to do it. What results is hesitation, indecision and uncertainty. Healthy teamwork, initiative and productivity go out the window.

Properly setting expectations for employees or team members is a vital aspect of quality workplaces, according to a huge study of managers undertaken in the 1990s by The Gallup Organization. Below are some tips on setting clear expectations that will set standards for excellence and results.

  1. Start with a vision of what you want the end result to look like. Not just what you want done, but the results you want to achieve when the project is completed. What does “done” look like?
  2. Discuss how you define “excellent performance”. Paint a complete picture. Refer to your performance review form. Don’t assume.
  3. Keep your focus on the desired outcomes, not on describing each and every step to follow. Your goal is to guide, not control. Letting individuals find their own route toward productive outcomes encourages them to use their strengths to their fullest potential. And they may actually come up with a better way than you thought of!
  4. Tie the mission of the department to each job. People want to know that their role, whether large or small, makes a difference. They like to feel as if their work has purpose. Let them know it does and how it does.
  5. Put the expectations in writing. The vast majority of us have faulty memories and tend to remember things the way we want to remember them. Writing it down gives consistency to the expectation and can be referred to later for clarification.
  6. Stay on the sideline. You may be tempted to run in and play the game for a subordinate, but if you do, no one will learn a thing. Don’t be an enabler. Let them develop into the team members and future leaders you want them to be.
  7. Give feedback—and often! The annual performance review is too late to let staff members know how they are meeting your expectations. Schedule informal reviews weekly (up to quarterly for larger departments). Feedback given along the way sounds more like coaching, not like punishment. And remember, Millennials crave/demand it!
  8. Ask for staff members’ feedback on how they think they are doing. The more two-way communication, the greater the clarity around the expectations. It also puts them in charge of their performance so they’re self-monitoring versus you playing performance police.
  9. Give positive reinforcement (and don’t mix negative and positive). Mention the thing you like and you’ll get more of it. Be specific and prompt.
  10. Don’t take it personally. When staff members don’t perform as you think they should have, look for solutions, not blame. See number 8. Ask them!

How have you been successful (or unsuccessful) at setting clear expectations for your team? Share with us!

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