Employees need to know what you expect of them. This can be a challenging task because many times, as leaders, we are pressed for time and as a result struggle to clearly define or communicate our expectations. It’s been my experience that when I give an employee a task, I assume they have the information they need. What I’ve discovered over the last 20 years of running my own company is that often, they do not have all of the information they need. In fact this assumption has resulted in employees having different ideas of what should be done than my initial intent. What follows is commonly a series of disappointments. 

Picture this scenario – an employee presents their work, you’re unhappy with the result and over time, you provide consistent negative feedback. The employee may try again, pulling together more information this time, but still, if you’re not giving them what they need, it will spin the cycle of employee dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and poor performance, and amplify your frustration and cloud your judgment and assessments of the individual. 

Positioning for Success

Success starts with you. You need to know what you expect of your employees and communicate that in a clear and deliberate way. Here are a few things to consider:

    1. Ensure you have a clear understanding of your expectations. If you can’t define what you expect from your employee, how can they deliver?
    2. Write your expectations down. A job description is a good place to express your expectations. Your expectations should be simply outlined, focusing on the details, and clearly identifying what needs to be done by the individual in order to succeed. 
    3. Make your expectations achievable and measurable. You may need to break your expectations down into smaller steps in order to set measurable goals. It is important that your expectations are measurable to evaluate your employee and provide valuable feedback. 
    4. Meet with your employees to discuss your expectations. A conversation can go a long way in humanizing what could simply be a transactional exchange of inputs and outputs. 
    5. Explain your expectations and why you have them. Let your employees know how they fit into the big picture and why tasks that may seem inconsequential to them are actually important. It’s easier to get your employees’ buy-in when you explain why they are doing something and what impact they are making. 
    6. Measure what matters. It’s not enough to state that there are measurable goals, you need to obtain and track the data. The data gives a clear picture of how your expectations are being met. If you find significant differences when starting out, you need to determine if the metrics reflect your employee’s performance or if you need to revisit the assigned metric.
    7. Spend time with your employees. Schedule regular recurring meetings with your employees to review metrics and discuss performance. Take the time to listen to their concerns and challenges without becoming defensive. Give credit to them for their successes and listen for the expectations your employees have of you, as a leader, that you may need to consider.

Ongoing Communication

It is important to communicate frequently and openly with your employees. As a result of COVID-19 and the shift to remote work, setting expectations and frequent communications are more important than ever. You may find you need to adapt the expectations you’ve set to align with your evolving needs. 

Frequency is important. Communicating with your employees monthly or quarterly is not enough. If your employee is working on a task and you don’t communicate until it’s complete, there is a greater chance it will not meet your expectations. 

Stay on topic. Defining what needs to be communicated and how is important.

Use technology to help you. Ongoing communication doesn’t always need to be in person. Using email or project management software may also be a good option.

Setting clear expectations benefits you, your employees, and your business. It may take time and a bit of effort to define and communicate what you need, but it will lead to more satisfied, happier and productive employees.