There are many reasons that employees are not successful; most common amongst them are unclear or undefined expectations. Often leaders make the mistake of assuming because someone has the required skills for their job that they automatically understand the expectations of that job, but that is just not true.

One of the most important things a leader can do to help their employees achieve success is to set clear expectations. In other words, show them what success looks like. But if a leader has never had this experience, chances are they don’t know how, or they are not doing it well. Here are some tips leaders can use:

About half of employees know what is expected of them at work. ~Gallup

Understand to be understood.

More likely than not, the expectations you set for your employees will be filtered down from those set for you. If what your leadership expects of you is unclear it is going to be impossible to establish, clear expectations for others. You must know what your leaders expect, so start from there.

Not just the what, but the why.

It is not enough to tell employees you expect of them; they want to know the why behind it. On the surface, things may not make sense. When employees understand the impact, efficiency, or the outcome, they can understand the reason and begin to see the bigger picture. Understanding the why also helps achieve buy-in and ownership, which in returns increases engagement and commitment.

Goals, objectives, and behaviors.

Expectations are multi-faceted and apply to different aspects of the job, from metrics to how tasks get completed. Work from the result you are looking for and then determine the expectations around how to get there. If it is customer satisfaction scores, then a specific set of behaviors related to the customer interaction will drive the result. Employees need to understand the linkage between different elements that will enable them to meet their expectations.

Mind the gap.

If you are working with a new employee, you probably won’t know what gaps exist. After establishing expectations, it is crucial to keep watch for areas of opportunity and address them. With existing employees and teams, you may already know what those opportunities are. By identifying the gap, you can leverage individual strengths to shore up deficiencies. Sometimes the gap exists because an employee has never seen something or done something, and other times it is because they have developed bad habits or behaviors.

Communicate and reiterate.

Communication is not a one size fits all. Although you may be most comfortable communicating via email, that does not mean that it is the best conduit for every employee. Use a multi-faceted approach to communication that includes email’s, staff meetings, and one on one time with employees.

Gain understanding and commitment from your employees. Have them acknowledge what you have said or written.

Follow up with it. If you are taking the staff meeting or one on one approach, put it in writing to eliminate confusion and create a record of everyone. Follow up also means reminding employees from time to time as a way to keep essential things at the forefront.

Give Feedback – Get Feedback.

It should never be a surprise if an employee is underperforming and not meeting expectations. The same is true for great performance. An employee should never wonder if they are doing a good job. Regular balanced feedback is essential, and it is a two-way street.

Just because you are a leader does not mean that there is no benefit to feedback from those you lead.

The key here is to ask questions such as:

  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel?
  • Do you have any ideas or suggestions?
  • What can I do to help?
  • Is there anything I should do differently?

Hold Them Accountable.

A critical component of expectations is accountability. Leaders must hold employees accountable. Employees need to know what will happen if they do not meet the expectations you set forth. Failing to do this will undermine everything else you are doing.

If you are inspecting what you expect and providing regular feedback, it will be much easier. Remember, no surprises.

Being able to set clear expectations is an essential part of leadership. Getting it right is a foundational element to building strong relationships with your employees and avoiding problems down the road.

Anthony T. Eaton is a seasoned, certified Human Resources professional with more than twenty years of experience. In addition, he is an accomplished leader and author with a passion for personal and professional leadership and development. Believing that every person has the opportunity and potential to lead, his focus is on helping others be the best leaders they can no matter who they are or the position they hold.

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