Clear Expectations are Critical

Friday, June 1 2018

One of the challenges of being a manager is that you are the communication point between senior leaders and your team. Poor communication has a high cost. Clear expectations are critical for leading a team. As a new manager, I learned this important lesson the hard way.

It began at a hastily called meeting where our senior leader announced a new initiative for our department. Initially, I was excited about what I heard and by their reactions I assumed the other managers were too. Announcement over, our leader rushed out the door and we sat in silence thinking about what the news meant. There was a lot at stake and many questions to be answered before we could move forward. How did the new initiative fit with our strategic plan? How were we were going to manage the new initiative along with everything else? After all it was year-end and we were working all out to meet those deadlines.

Unfortunately, we all headed in different directions, because what I heard was not the same as what the others heard. Our enthusiasm quickly turned to avoidance. We had so many questions; however, the leader was rarely available. We decided to meet as a group to determine first steps, but we came up with more questions than answers! Ultimately, It did not go well for the group or the project.

Today, many years later, I often hear from both new and seasoned managers about the downward spiral that results from poor communication and unclear expectations. Failure to take the time upfront to be clear results in:

  • uncertainty about what to focus on
  • unpleasant last-minute demands
  • managers taking on work because they are dissatisfied with the results they are getting

It requires a long time to repair the resulting damage to relationships and productivity. Prevent the damage by using these three strategies when taking on a project or dealing with daily performance:

Ensure clarity about expectations and goals.

What is it you need to know about what you are doing and why? Achieving clarity is dependent on the answers to those questions.  A Towers Watson survey found that half the managers didn’t set effective employee goals. If managers and staff are not clear about their individual goals, how can they hope to achieve them? Managers can support overall goals only if they are clear about the relationship of their goals to the department plan. They can ensure staff understand how their roles contribute to the larger goals. This also helps achieve buy-in.

Create a plan and involve others.

When you lead a team, whether new or existing, a plan is key. Create a plan and get staff involved in its review. This will assist them to understand the desired overall outcomes; what the timelines are; and what roles need to be filled and by whom. Managers who involve their staff get these details ironed out early and achieve clarity from the beginning. Provide everyone a copy of the plan with details on their role. If everyone knows what is expected this will prevent miscommunication. Regular check-in points will prevent surprises about who is required to do what and when.

Ensure support.

Managers and staff will occasionally face issues meeting the requirements of their roles. Support them through coaching. This can assist them to deal with the challenges that arise. If conflict or misunderstandings do occur they can be dealt with quickly and effectively.

It is the responsibility of leaders to set direction and communicate clear expectations. Effective leaders and managers make what seems broad and general, concrete and actionable for themselves and their staff. What questions do you need to ask yourself about your current work to ensure you have the clear expectations that are essential for success?