[July 12, 2014] The first snowman I built for my 4-year old son was to be a monument to our father-son relationship. An 8-inch snow and just the right kind of snow had fallen the night before. Living in the Northeast but being from the South, I was unprepared for the results of the snowman we attempted to build together, and we nearly froze. In my ignorance, I had not properly managed expectations for my son or myself.
Good communications is the acme of great leadership. Communication is complex and difficult to do, but is necessary if a leader expects people to be able to follow. Managed expectations are a part of communication and thus the vision and goals of any organization must be made clear to everyone. Standards of behavior, work environment, and the “tone” of how business is conducted, must all be established early and reinforced at every opportunity.1
Nearly every breakdown in the work environment is the result of poorly managed expectations. When I talk with people who are having trouble in the workplace, at school, or at home, the most common reason is that they simply did not understand what others expected of them. Whether that was due to their personal failure to find out or not, is not the point here. A leader’s responsibility is to ensure those employees, or anyone they may lead, knows what to expect and is thus prepared.
The young and the inexperienced are those we must pay closest attention to when managing expectations. They have yet to develop the intellectual skills needed to go after the expectations in the workplace. Here are some keys to well-managed expectations that will apply to everyone:
- Set expectations early and ensure they are clearly defined (put them in writing if possible)
- Reinforce expectations by communicating them often
- Ensure the expectations are realistic and truly needed
- Get feedback to ensure expectations are being communicated correctly
Ultimately, managing expectations is designed to ensure that people have the correct perceptions about what is going on. This is why most organizations have an orientation program for new employees.
The second snowfall that winter my son and I did a much better job of building a snowman, but we also did not have an unrealistic view in our heads on how he would look. We dressed warmer too.
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 Here is a short list of workplace expectations that should be addressed. Note that expectations can be formal (part of the organizations policies) or informal (unwritten but important):
- Job duties
- Career growth
- Personal attitude
- Customer service