Managing expectations is a process. It takes planning, discipline and follow up. It’s not rocket science, but you can’t skip any of the steps if you want to be successful. Most mportantly, you also need to document each step in some way or GET IT IN WRITING. The benefits of putting it in writing include:
- Forces you to articulate each step succinctly
- Provides a visual tool
- Can be used for tracking and as a reference
- Stimulates additional brain function for reinforcement
- Codifies buy-in and commitment from both parties
- Converse and Confirm
- Over Communicate
- Note Lessons Learned
Now you may wonder why we start with ASK. Who are you going to ask when you want to give a directive for what needs to be done, right? That’s the first habit we want to break. Telling people what to do does not necessarily give them the clarity they need to be successful.
The first thing you need to do is to ASK YOURSELF some clear questions, in order to prepare for a CONVERSATION you will be having with your team member in managing expectations. Dissecting your expectations is a good first step. Here are some suggested queries and thoughts:
- What is their current situation? (capacity/capability)
- What does success/failure look like?
- Do they need help with the ‘how’?
- How will we measure success? (KISS)
- Describe the potential barriers or ambiguities.
- What’s most important to me?
- Articulate what do I NOT want.
- What information do we need?
Converse and Confirm
Now that you’ve asked yourself all the questions and collected the requirements, you are ready for your conversation. Your job is to articulate your expectations as clearly as possible such that there is no ambiguity as to what success looks like. This can be tricky. All of us have many assumptions and expect others to think similarly. But that’s not the case. Everyone has different experiences in life that they pull from and everyone wants to do a good job. I really don’t believe anyone gets up in the morning and says
“I wonder how I can make my boss’s life a living hell today.”
This is a two-way street. Managing expectations mean you must first communicate the expectations, you need to allow them to ask questions for clarity, have them repeat their understanding to you AND AGREE and ACCEPT the expectation as their own as well. Bonus points can be earned by Including a description as to WHY the deliverables are needed. People are much more motivated when they know why the task is needed and valued.
Get confirmation from your team member that they understand the expectation AND that they AGREE to meet it. This is largely overlooked. Most leaders assume because they said it, and the employee said they understood it, that they have also agreed to it.
Let’s look at an example of where this could go wrong.
You layout an expectation that the quality of the Outreach Report needs to be improved ASAP. And you follow up with “Let’s try to get this done.” “Do you understand?” “So tell me what your understanding of the expectation is just so we are clear and both on the same page.”
They reply—”we need to try to improve the quality of the Outreach report as soon as possible”. Done, right?
NO! First, neither of you has any idea what success looks like, and secondly, you both have agreed to TRY. That’s not clear at all!
What would be a better conversation and outcome? Including details like proofreading the report, providing tables with 100% correct data, utilizing the same font throughout, making it an easy to read single page, utilizing bullet points etc…..and deliver by end of this month.
As we saw in our previous example, a time frame is the second biggest issue after clarity in managing expectations. ASAP does not do it.
Being silent on a timeline doesn’t either. You may assume they’ll get to it today, but they are assuming Friday is fine. You must clarify and communicate. It’s discipline and you need to set the example. Behavior trickles down. They watch you and assume that your behavior is what is expected. Remember, if YOU do it, they think they must do it. If you don’t do it, they don’t believe they have to do it either. It’s that simple.
Now that you have clarity, agreement, and a timeline, also address who will take the initiative for follow up. Do you want them to initiate meetings with you or will you set them up? What will that look like? We don’t want this to fall in between the cracks because no one is following up on the activity. Ultimately, you are the one accountable to ensure that your people are performing. If you need to take the initiative, then do it. If you want them to…..make it part of the expectation and make sure you get agreement!
If you already have one on one meetings set up on a regular basis, great! You can check this one off the list.
As you are now seeing, communication is imperative, especially in a virtual environment. We can become isolated very quickly, and we can make assumptions even quicker.
When defining expectations, make it clear what you want to be communicated, by when, how often, and using what vehicle. Have a conversation about what mode of communication is best for you, and then ensure that you make yourself available using that mode. If you agreed to e-mail, yet you routinely don’t answer them, your team member may become disengaged. This sends a message that they aren’t important and their questions or updates are not important either.
Ever had someone breathing down your neck for something, demanding a due date of Friday noon, only to find out that they took Friday and Monday off to make a long weekend? Pretty demotivating isn’t it? It doesn’t motivate anyone to go above and beyond for that person again in the future.
In a virtual world, I don’t think it’s possible to overcommunicate. Now, I’m not talking about writing a book in an email. Nobody wants to read that. But follow up, and let people know you received their request and you’re working on it. Thank them for completing something for you, Just these courtesies make everyone’s job easier and more pleasant. You’re keeping each other updated so there is more clarity. So let your team members know what you want to see from them. Check-in with them regularly.
Note Lessons Learned
Lastly, as expectations are met, or NOT, take note of what’s working in the process, what’s not working, and what needs to be different. This is a process of continuous improvement. We all need to hear feedback so that we can appropriately change our behavior if needed. And we shouldn’t hear it for the first time at the end of the year during our performance evaluation. Feedback needs to be as quick as possible, relative to the behavior that needs to change.
And unfortunately, you cannot treat everyone the same. Some people need more direction than others, possibly because they are less experienced. Others can hit the ground running and you don’t see the need to offer more direction….they know what to do and are being very successful.
AND, things can change. The high performer you had in the office is now juggling 4 children at home trying to balance the job, homeschooling, and a spouse working from home as well. You may need to make some adjustments in your expectations of their work hours for example. They may need a few hours in the middle of the day to address the children and they’ll work more early morning or early evening hours to make it up. These are the conversations you need to have in order to manage expectations.
Ask the questions, get your agreements, have your touchpoints, measure success, and show your consistency. Remember they are watching you.
For tips on managing expectations in a virtual world click here.