Corporate Adulting

The Importance of Setting Clear Expectations

It Makes Everyone’s Job Easier

A few years ago, a manager on my team was sitting in my office complaining about an employee. The employee in question had not been checking in as often as he wanted or giving him enough notice when she had appointments or had to leave early. He was annoyed and ready to write her up for her behavior.

I explained that due to the nature of the work that the employee had been traditionally performing, we had not been in the practice in our group of “nickel and diming” time in the office. Strictly speaking, she was not disobeying any company policies and was within the precedent that had been set by her previous manager. Also, she was getting the work done, just not always in the regular workday.

After explaining the context and letting him know I did understand why he was frustrated, I said, “You have recently taken responsibility for her team. Have you told her what you expect from her?”

He paused for a moment, thought, and said sheepishly, “No.”

I said, “Well, the way I see it, you have no right to be angry with her if you haven’t set clear expectations for the behavior that you want to see. Talk to her and the rest of the team about what it is that you want or need them to do — and THEN if they don’t do it, you are justified in being upset and/or writing them up. Until then, you don’t have a leg to stand on.”

I think he was a little floored at first by my comments, then quickly came to see my point.

Without a new and clearly defined set of expectations, the employee was continuing to operate by the old set of expectations. The situation for the team had changed somewhat, but without new “running rules” being communicated, she was continuing to follow the practices of what had been acceptable previously.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to set the guidelines that are acceptable on your team. You have the ownership for ensuring that your function is supported and meets business needs, while also obeying company policies, but you also need to translate those into expectations for your team’s operation.

There are some additional benefits to setting clear expectations. Setting expectations is important because it helps take the friction out of your leadership. Setting expectations can allow your team to know what to expect from you. It reduces speculation within your team about what to do in various circumstances and it clarifies the path forward. Your employees know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

This makes your job easier. By setting clear expectations and doing some initial planning, you can set a standard in advance that your team can follow. You are not having to “make it up as you go along”, which takes extra time and energy.

Expectations you may want to set for your team include:

· How you will communicate

• What you will communicate

• When you will communicate

• Your preferred communication style for sharing information with the team

• The standards for acceptable behavior for employees

• How employees should communicate and in what timeframe

• How common requests will be handled

Additionally, you will want to also provide clear expectations on how transparent you will be as a leader, what technology you will use to communicate and how frequently your team can expect to hear from you on various topics.

Make sure to periodically review your expectations for validity. If the work environment has changed, the expectations may need to change too. As a leader, it is your job to make it easier for your team to do their jobs, not harder. If the expectations that have been set for your group are no longer working for you — or worse, are working against being as efficient as possible — don’t be afraid to revisit them and be flexible to make changes.

In my next one-on-one with the manager, I asked if the situation had improved. And of course, it had. Being open and transparent with the expectations is usually all that is needed to change the behavior of an employee. Most people want to do a good job when they come to work and leaders can increase the effectiveness of their team and ultimately themselves, by clearly communicating what is needed and correcting behavior proactively.

In Summary

In the absence of guidance, people create their own story. Setting clear expectations helps reduce the amount of energy the team will use to navigate their work environment and allow them to focus on getting the work done. Lastly, it will reduce your personal frustration as a leader by ensuring that clarity has been provided.

Thanks for reading! Read more of my Corporate Adulting Blog series at



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