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Seven Steps to Setting Clear Expectations

by Kevin Eikenberry on October 8, 2012

in Communication, Leadership, Leadership Communication, Learning

set expectationsA few weeks ago I wrote an article about the importance of expectations in the workplace and the four basic areas where expectations are required.  As I was writing it, I knew people might want the logical next step . . . once we realize the ultimate importance of expectations, and the areas in which they need to be set, we also need to know how to actually set them.

That is the purpose of this article – to give you a seven step process as a supervisor, leader, manager or coach, to get crystal clear expectations with those you are leading.

  1. Make them clear for yourself.  It is pretty difficult to build mutually clear expectations with others if you don’t know exactly what they are yourself.  If you can’t clearly articulate them verbally or on paper, you aren’t ready for this conversation yet.  And “I’ll know it when I see it” isn’t a clear expectation.
  2. Know where you need expectations.  This was the purpose of the other article, but in short, think about where the gaps are – Are they in the work itself? How we will communicate? What is our timing? What are the expectations imposed by the organizational culture? Consider this as a checklist – do you have expectations in each of these areas, and are they clear to you?
  3. Understand why.  Having clear expectations is good, giving others the context and intention for them will make them clearer and easier to follow.  This is about justification to others. It is about helping people understand the bigger picture.  With this bigger picture, people will understand better and commit more easily.
  4. Meet and discuss.  Once you have the first three steps completed, sit down with the other person to discuss your expectations. If you don’t have the first three steps done, there is the risk that, while improved, expectations may still be unclear or incomplete.  It will be even better if when you invite them to meet, you encourage them to come prepared as well.
  5. Make it mutual.  As a leader you have expectations of others that they need to know (and not have to guess) so they can succeed.  They have expectations of you that you need to know as well.  The conversation about expectations needs to be a true conversation – so that both of you understand each other’s expectations and so that you can more towards agreement.
  6. Write them down.  We aren’t talking a legal document here, but we all know that things written down allow for greater clarity, and without things being written down we must rely on memory.  If you want clearly defined, mutually understood expectations, they must be written down.
  7. Get agreement and commitment.  Once you have them written, both parties need to read them to make sure they are understood and agreed to. Then both parties must commit to each other that they agree with them, and will live with them in the future.

The lack of clearly understood expectation is the source of much strife in relationships, the cause of most conflicts, and the beginning of poor organizational performance.

As leaders, we must strive to build clear expectations throughout our organizations, and it must start with us.

photo credit: The_Warfield via photopin cc

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