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Well, I guess that does it. You’ve clicked on a link and expect to find something. But that’s how expectations work. They start before you realize you are thinking about them and they never stop changing. Why do they matter? Because they set the tone for everything we do.

WHAT ARE EXPECTATIONS?

The essence of an expectation is the belief that something will happen. We often tie expectations to a person or group of people thinking that they are responsible. And if you’ve ever been in a relationship of any kind you know those people have expectations of you as well.

WHY DO EXPECTATIONS MATTER?

When we don’t know what to expect we are in a constant state of uncertainty. This means we get stressed out about priorities, how we approach the task at hand, and how to manage our relationships.

When we don’t talk with each other about our expectations we end up constantly disappointed because nothing happened the way we anticipated. And while we may be disappointed in the outcome, we focus our disappointment on the people. At work, those people are often our managers or bosses. Sometimes it’s co-workers. But it’s almost never ourselves.

But if we do know what to expect … everything works better.

WHO SETS EXPECTATIONS?

We all do. With every communication. But too often we don’t clarify that we have the same vision of what’s important. And if expectations aren’t communicated correctly then they can conflict with other goals. Then people either get stressed out while trying to figure out the path of least destruction or they prioritize expectations themselves. This leads to asking a manager where they should focus. And when expectations aren’t set, “do the best you can, everything has to get done” is often the response.

But expectations are also set by actions. If the president of a company says all meetings start promptly at the top of the hour but she wanders in five minutes late, that’s an expectation. If someone else is ten minutes late and there is no repercussion except for a snide remark, that sets an expectation as well. Missed deadlines, mediocre work, going over budget … if it’s accepted then it’s an expectation. No matter what is said, it’s what is allowed that determines expectations.

The same is true between companies. If the relationship begins with some loose conversation and no focus on clarity then issues will happen as the project progresses. Normally it comes to a boil when someone says, "but that’s not what we were told."

HOW SHOULD EXPECTATIONS BE SET?

These steps should help get you to a better place than you are today. But remember, setting expectations isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an all the time thing.

  1. Plan out a process and structure for setting, maintaining, communicating and revising expectations. This includes providing channels for feedback. Remember, expectations are always changing so it’s important to keep in touch with them in all areas of the company.
  2. Review roles and responsibilities for all aspects of the organization. You may think you’ve already done this, but a simple survey of the team and you’ll find disconnects, sometimes big ones.
  3. Communicate about expectations all the time. Make sure it’s crystal clear to everyone in a meeting what needs to happen, when it needs to happen and how it needs to happen. Never forget to talk about why, as well, and keep the floor open for feedback. An expectation that doesn’t make sense to the team won’t be met.
  4. Constantly review expectations with individuals as well as the team. Make sure they fit the passion and skills of the person who is responsible for maintaining the expectation.
  5. Document all expectations for which people will be held accountable. In other words all expectations. And review them frequently to make sure they make sense as the needs of the business change.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It is! That’s why someone needs to be focused on making sure it happens. It is everyone’s responsibility, but there needs to be one person who makes sure it stays top of mind for the team.

GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE

Setting expectations are one thing. Getting an entrenched team to change their ways is completely different. Even if a team is comprised of amazing people who have the best interest of the company at heart, they will be set in their ways no matter how they try to change. That’s why a meeting with the entire team to make commitments around expectations is so critical.

It has to be an open discussion with no fear of speaking up with suggestions or concerns. Expectations, goals, and repercussions of not maintaining what has been agreed upon must be documented, shared and revisited frequently.

If this feels uncomfortable, just dig deep and start asking yourself why? More than likely you've got a team that wants to succeed together, and after unearthing some shared concerns, and responsibilities, you'll move forward stronger than ever.

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