In this article, expect to learn a thing or two about expectations
Every day, you hear lots and lots of opinions, and get a great deal of advice. Most of it leaves your brain as quickly as it has entered it. But some of it, well it kind of sticks with you forever. You remind yourself of it regularly and try to model your life after it, at least a little.
Just before our first child was born, I received a piece of advice that stuck with me. It came from one of my then colleagues, and the message was simple:
The most important thing (in parenthood) is to set clear expectations.
So for the last two and a bit years, I tried hard to follow this advice at home. This has been — as you can imagine — a bit trial and error. I might push my luck a little when I try to explain to a 6-month old that bedtime is at 7 pm. But generally, it has worked well.
And it makes sense. As a parent, once you set clear expectations, there is no (or very little) guessing and arguing after the fact.
Setting Expectations At Work
However, setting expectations has been one of the weak areas in my professional life.
I have always focused on building good work relationships. And I have added feedback to my leader toolkit early on. But it has never occurred to me that setting expectations is equally important. Especially when you are managing others. Until recently.
The realisation came during a training program for Redbubble’s managers. And one exercise in particular helped me realise the importance of expectations. We had to write down our big assumptions — the reasons why we are doing what we are doing. Then we were asked to drill down into what that means for us as leaders. In the end, I came up with something like the following:
- I am a manager because I want to give those working with me a great experience. I want to provide a supportive team environment and accelerate their personal growth. In the end, I aim to contribute to their happiness.
- A great tool to help others grow and make sure they are on the right track is feedback. I loosely follow the radical candor approach and encourage a culture of open feedback in my team.
- Feedback can only be effective if the other person knows what is expected of them. If it is not made clear up front, any feedback that I give might come as a surprise. Without clear expectations, there is no complete social contract.
Before the workshop, I was very much focused on 1) and 2). Now I realise how important 3) is and how I can be more impactful as a manager by setting clearer expectations.
And it goes even one step further: It all starts with expectations. Only clear expectations allow for concrete and valuable feedback, which in turn leads to happier people.
Getting Better At Setting Expectations
Happy days. I now know expectations are important. I just need to get better at it in practice. But how?
As with every skill, it requires lots and lots of practice. To help me get started, I have introduced three concepts into my day-to-day:
- Be more aware. Not really that concrete, I know. But it works the same way my colleague’s parenting advice sticks with me. I can train myself to make it part of a mental checklist. Expectations set? Tick. Feedback given? Tick. People happy? Tick.
- Ask for clarification. You can set expectations all day, but unless the other person understands what you want, it is a pretty useless exercise. One way to check for understanding is to ask Can you play this back to me? This highlights anything worth repeating before you can be confident everybody is on the same page.
- Share my general expectations. How handy would it be if your manager has written down all her expectations in a document? And the document is shared with you and the rest of the team. Would not that make life a little bit simpler? That is exactly what I have done in my manager handbook. And I am not the only one doing it.
At the end of the workshop, we were all asked to create a little badge capturing our biggest insight. This is mine, and it sits on my desk so I get reminded of the importance of expectations every day.