How Can Managers Set Clear Expectations with Employees?
If your employees aren't performing the way you want them to, perhaps you haven't communicated your expectations properly. We outline the steps to help you set expectations with clarity.
Palpable tension in the air. Falling productivity levels. An uneasiness among the teammates. You can tell when the expectations of a manager for his team have not been communicated clearly.
The uncertainty, stress, and anxiety is evident at the workplace.
Worryingly, a worldwide survey by Gallup showed that only around half the employees strongly indicated that they know what is expected of them.
- Only 32% of the respondents said that their manager helped them set performance goals, and
- Less than 40% felt that their manager supported them in setting work priorities.
This means that it is time you tell your direct reports what you want from them in unequivocal terms. Just sharing the job description is not enough.
As a manager, it is your responsibility to help your direct reports set and achieve their goals–both behavioral and performance-related.
- You’ll want to communicate a detailed understanding of how each direct report’s role relates to the roles of her co-workers and that of the overall organization.
- You’ll also make it clear that expectations will change as circumstances change.
Your team will need to know, both verbally and in writing, what is required of them.
This will reduce or even eliminate confusion, and increase the chances of employees meeting their performance goals, conducting themselves in a professional manner, and bringing the required enthusiasm and energy to work.
It’s true that no one likes a micromanager, but most professionals appreciate knowing that they are doing things right.
Setting expectations and communicating employee responsibilities, whether you’re onboarding new hires or briefing experienced employees, will have a long-lasting effect on profitability.
Table of Contents Hide
- Key areas around setting expectations
- Steps to setting expectations the right way
- 1. Know what your expectations from your employees really are
- 2. Set expectations that optimize their strengths
- 3. Communicate early and frequently
- 4. Ask for feedback from your employees
- 5. Assess their performance and attitude regularly
- 6. Define ownership clearly
- 7. Ensure employees have what they need to be successful
- Setting expectations during one on one meetings
Key areas around setting expectations
There are four key areas around which the expectations of a manager are usually established — work, communication, time, and culture.
An employee’s job description is a basic summary of her role and responsibilities in the company.
It isn’t a definitive guide to the expectations that she is required to adhere to with respect to things like the depth of her knowledge, the quality of her work, or her attitude at the workplace.
You’ll need to clearly define your direct report’s responsibilities and job roles, ensure that she understands them, and agrees to them.
This will build deeper trust and a better working relationship.
While it may seem obvious that proper communication smooths things along, the reality is that managers don’t always share clear directions or set proper boundaries.
People differ in their habits and modes of operation, so setting the standard for acceptable conduct helps direct reports navigate the workplace efficiently.
Some areas that you can discuss are:
- What mode of communication should people use when communicating formally and informally?
- How frequently should communication occur?
- What sort of information can be shared with everyone? What should be kept at the employee level?
- What are the protocols for communication with one’s manager and upper management?
When you work with multiple people on various projects, you’ll need to keep track of your time and other’s time.
Be clear about the expected response times to requests or messages from different levels in the company.
If you’re working with an international team or a remote team, let everyone know what the work timings of the team members are.
Defining the workplace culture is an important consideration when communicating the expectations of a manager to his employees.
Both new and experienced hires will carry some of their past habits and behaviors.
If these do not match with the expectations of the current company, then it can cause interpersonal conflicts and poor performance.
As a manager, you need to make the company’s mission, strategy, values, and overall expectations clear to your direct reports.
Steps to setting expectations the right way
Effectively communicating expectations makes the office a friendly and pleasant place to work, where your direct reports can focus and feel comfortable.
Your message should be clear, honest, and empathetic.
We have outlined the basic steps for communicating the expectations of a manager:
1Know what your expectations from your employees really are
Before you communicate your expectations to your direct report, be sure you know what you really want from her. This goes beyond her basic job description.
You’ll need to consider her work history to determine how it fits with her role in her current project or in the team.
Whether she has worked with you in the past or not, you’ll need to make it clear what exactly you expect from her now.
You can begin by defining ‘What,’ then ‘How,’ and then ‘Why.’
- ‘What’ are your expectations from your direct report?
- ‘How’ can she achieve those expectations? (e.g. by meeting productivity targets or improving work ethic)
- ‘Why’ do you have these expectations from your direct report? (i.e. their purpose in the project/team)
Answering these three questions will help you articulate your expectations in a specific and clear manner.
You can also employ the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Time-Based) method of setting expectations of a manager.
This will help your direct reports know what goals have been set, why they have been assigned, and what will happen if these goals are met or not met.
There are two kinds of expectations that you should outline for your direct reports:
Whereas foundational expectations are relevant for everyone working in the organization, personal goals are specific to each direct report.
You’ll want to set personal goals in collaboration with your direct report such that they support her ambitions and growth.
You’ll also want to tie them into the foundational goals to boost the business.
2Set expectations that optimize their strengths
A good way to ensure that expectations are being set properly is to ensure that they work to the strengths of the direct report.
For instance, if she enjoys a client-facing role but fail to understand that and give her a role where she is required to work with programmers, you’re likely to get poor results.
Find out what the strong points of your direct reports are.
Understand what drives them to perform at work and what their behavioral triggers and motivations are.
Taking a positive approach to setting and managing expectations goes a long way in boosting productivity.
Instead of concentrating over missed deadlines & poor performance and formulating ways to fix it, it may help to identify what is going well and encourage it.
Your regular one on one meetings are the best place to probe into your direct report’s strengths and weaknesses and discover how she works best.
3Communicate early and frequently
Effective managers not only communicate clearly, but also frequently and early on.
Don’t fall into the trap of “But it should have been obvious…”
When you find yourself thinking like this, take the opportunity to proactively communicate your expectations.
An important thing to remember is that you must clarify your own thoughts before you explain them to your direct reports.
If you cannot verbalize your expectations or put them down clearly on paper, wait.
Think about the most effective way to communicate them, and then use simple language to explain them.
Finally, be honest about your own management and ownership responsibilities.
This will project you as human and help your direct reports to relate to your expectations.
4Ask for feedback from your employees
Communicating the expectations of a manager should not sound like a directive or a mandate.
It is a two-way conversation between you and your direct reports.
You discuss each other’s requirements and expectations, and then arrive at a collaborative solution.
You can push back on unreasonable demands, but your direct reports will resent you if you attempt to dictate to them.
You can rely on one on one meetings for a healthy exchange of feedback between you and your direct report.
Like you do at these meetings, prepare a collaborative agenda for the discussion along with a list of expectations and goals.
Your direct report may have valuable insights to offer when she comes prepared to the meeting.
5Assess their performance and attitude regularly
As a manager you need to assess your employees’ performance regularly.
One on one meetings are the best platform to do so.
You may need to rejig their responsibilities and your expectations from them as per their performance.
If they are able to perform as expected, you can take a sigh of relief, but if they are facing challenges, you may have to re-look at your expectations and revise them accordingly.
Your direct reports should feel connected, engaged, and empowered to achieve their performance goals.
They shouldn’t feel forced, dictated, or unhappy.
To get their support for the company’s goals, show them how their task relates to the overall organizational mission and priorities.
One on one meetings are the best platform to understand their concerns and challenges and get an update on how they are performing.
PRO TIP: Use a one on one meeting software that also helps you track productivity and performance for your employee, besides other important functions.
Effective One on One Meetings
We built a software that automatically schedules, lets you set agenda, take notes, exchange feedback and track actions – all in one place.
6Define ownership clearly
As the manager, after you have explained your expectations and determined that your direct report has understood them, the next step is to ask how she will own these expectations.
Your direct report will feel responsible for the expectations when she understands how her assigned task will help achieve the goal.
Clarify how success in the task will impact her performance. Mention clearly the outcomes you’re looking for.
This will help her define how she will hold herself accountable for it.
You cannot assign accountability. Your direct report has to accept it.
7Ensure employees have what they need to be successful
Finally, it is your job as a manager to ensure that your direct report has the tools and resources she needs to be successful at her task.
Your direct reports will expect you to put them in a position that is geared for success.
You’ll want to be flexible with respect to each direct report’s workload and willing to make adjustments, wherever necessary.
Thus, you’ll want to be careful about considering new opportunities before accepting them.
Don’t hesitate to reject projects which will only increase your team’s workload without offering them meaningful gains.
One on one meetings are a great place to discuss the resources and tools your direct reports need for success.
Setting expectations during one on one meetings
One on one meetings are undeniably the best platform to set expectations of a manager and communicate them clearly to the direct report.
With respect to setting expectations, one on one meetings help a manager:
- gauge the strengths and understand the motivations of an employee
- communicate expectations clearly to the employee
- ask the employee for feedback on the expectations set for her
- assess the employee’s performance and attitude regularly without micromanaging
- check-in frequently with the employee and remove potential blockers
- set clear ownership of tasks and bring in accountability
You’ll want to show that you are attentive and reachable to help with challenges and solutions.
Equip your employees with the tools for success by conducting regular one on one meetings with them, wherein you discuss professional development opportunities, future goals, performance contributions, and ongoing projects.
This will demonstrate that you are a caring and professional manager.
However, remember that each direct report is different so you may have to adopt different approaches to best reach out to them. And one on one meetings give you the opportunity to do so.
You can also browse through our compilation of 500+ questions for one on one meetings to help you initiate conversations on the right note.
When the expectations of a manager are communicated clearly, direct reports feel confident in their abilities and take ownership of their tasks.
Clear, specific directions prevent blame games or rework, which boosts overall productivity and employee engagement.
Want to become a better manager?
Start with great 1-on-1s to build high performing teams.