Learning & Development

Training Managers to Set Expectations

A subordinate delivers a work product that’s closer to a rough draft rather than a final product and leaves insufficient time to revise it before the external deadline. When a crucial deliverable is missing, people from multiple teams point fingers, and a new employee is surprised to see negative comments on her performance review, as she thought she was performing quite well.


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It might be tempting for a manager to blame the subordinate, the individual teams, or the new employee for not living up to expectations; however, this situation is the consequence of failing to properly set expectations—expectations on how polished a deliverable should be, on ownership of key deliverables, and on job performance.

Ultimately, managers are responsible for setting clear and unambiguous expectations for those they manage. Here are some key questions managers should ask when they hand out assignments.

Do *I* Fully Understand the Expectations?

Often, managers fail to fully communicate expectations because they haven’t thought them through fully themselves. Perhaps they are swamped and are trying to delegate quickly, assuming subordinates will fill in the gaps. But unless managers can realistically count on subordinates to make the correct assumptions, this can be a big mistake.

Have I Clearly Communicated the Expectations?

It can come across as patronizing or micromanaging to excruciatingly lay out every detail of an assignment. But when in doubt, it’s better to give more direction than not enough.

Additionally, smart managers will document those expectations in meeting minutes, a project charter, or some other document so there is no ambiguity or the potential for future claims that someone didn’t understand what was communicated verbally.

Are the Expectations Realistic?

Even if expectations are clearly communicated, managers should carefully consider whether those expectations are realistic. Many subordinates may be hesitant to push back on assigned work for fear of looking incapable or lazy.

But the group is much better off knowing up front if expectations are at risk of not being met. Managers should consider the workload and competency of their staff and ask thorough questions to gauge their level of confidence in subordinates’ ability to meet critical expectations.

Certain individuals or teams sometimes fail to live up to reasonable and clearly communicated expectations, and in these situations, it’s hard to find fault with the manager. However, there are many cases when expectations are unreasonable or not clearly communicated.

In such cases, managers should not be surprised to find they aren’t getting what they want or expect. Training managers on how to properly set expectations can help avoid issues that might arise down the road.