Setting Right Expectations

The other day I was speaking to a friend of mine.  She appeared rather upset, so I enquired about it.  She was upset because she had a bad meeting with her boss; in simple words her boss was not pleased with the work she had done on a task that was assigned.  This is a normal scenario you’d expect in a day to day office life.  But was it really a normal scenario?  I asked myself.

I know of my friend to be a very efficient worker, a very good manager who knows her trade very well.  She is very diligent, focused and would her 100% to any task she undertakes or is assigned.  Her record by far as been exemplary with her organization and there has been hardly any instances of failure for her.  Then why did she have a bad meeting with her boss?  What had gone wrong?  I wondered.

When I probed her I realised very quickly that she was meant to fail on the task she had been assigned with.

Her boss was earlier questioned by his seniors for slow progress on a strategic internal project.  He had to react and find a quick solution to address his seniors’ concerns and discontent.  So, as is the normal tendency, he called a few of his team members and started to assign tasks to them…without really validating if his team members were the right ones to handle those tasks.  My friend handles the operations division and is very efficient with it.  She was assigned one of the tasks which a marketing team member needed to handle but because the marketing team did not do their job well on this project, he did not want to involve them or seek their support.  This was not something she had done before or invested any time in learning it – it was never a part of her role.  Her boss wanted quick results, in fact he wanted the tasks to be completed within a few days; which according to me was a tough ask.  In any case, my friend did take up the gauntlet and started to read up on articles and reference materials available to equip her with needed information and thus understand how she can accomplish the task assigned to her.  Obviously she was treading into a territory not of her own and thus would stumble.  And during the very first review discussion, her boss came down on her very hard.  He clearly expected her to be as good at that task as an expert in the marketing team would’ve been.

I am sure by now you would have figured what is wrong here.  An incorrect mapping of complexion of the task with competency of the individuals it was assigned to.  You cannot have a donkey run in a derby; it is meant for horses… just as foolish as having a fighter pilot fly a passenger aircraft; he is not trained and specialised for it.  Now it does not mean he cannot fly the plane or a donkey cannot run the race but more likely that they would do a shitty job at it.  This is a simple thing which we quite often tend to forget in our reactiveness.

But this is not the only lesson learnt.

I think the bigger and a more important lesson learnt here is about setting the right expectations.  I do not think her boss clearly understood what he was doing and in his reaction to the situation, ended up doing a very poor job at assigning the tasks and setting wrong expectations.  But at the same time, I feel, my friend also needed to make sure she understands the task assigned very clearly and help her boss set the right expectations; she should have explained her lack of experience and knowledge on the task assigned and thus established a need for support either from her boss or from the marketing team individual to successfully fulfil the responsibility.

Expectations, I believe, is a two way street.  It just does not have to come from the top to the level below it, but it needs to be other way round too to make sure both the parties involved appreciate what it takes to do the job well and do it right the very first time.  Expectations thus need to:

[1] Very clear, non-ambiguous

[2] Very well understood

[3] Aptly realistic

I believe managers and leaders must work hard to explain their initiatives and create conditions for their people to succeed when they implement them.  But equally so, followers need to work to fulfil their responsibilities and also ensure that they clearly explain areas where they will need assistance, support and direction.  The leaders need to exert their management skills to engage employees and set clear expectations and likewise the employees need to ensure that they confirm their understanding of the expectations and are upfront on seeking any support or training needed to help meet the expectations [at the least].

Here are three questions managers can ask to ensure that employees follow through on their responsibilities.

[1] Do your people [team members] know what is expected of them?  Too often we assume people know their jobs. People may know the specifics, but often lack knowledge about how what they do helps the entire organization.  People need to be told, and reminded, of the importance of their work.

[2] Do the employees know what they can expect from you?  It is important to let employees know that you as their manager are available to them.  The definition of ‘available’ may vary based on cases and from employee to employee.  Like; for new hires you might be more teacher than boss, for experienced team members you will play the coaching role while for the team, you will be the supplier of resources as well as their champion.

[3] Do employees know what is expected of each other? While managers need to make certain employees are doing what is asked of them, employees must also do their part to coordinate with each other.  Whether a self-managed team makes its own assignments or a manager makes the assignments, what matters most is that employees know who does what so work can be completed in a timely and responsible fashion.  This allows for a great opportunity for leveraging experience and skills in the team where every team members knows and understands how their skills can be utilized not only for their tasks but those for others too.

[4] Are there any potential causes for failures?  It is very important to ensure that a manager clearly assesses if the team members are capable enough to carry out the tasks assigned and at the same time carefully evaluate risks and potential causes for failure.  These could be cases like the one explained above where a team member has low or zero experience handling a task but has been assigned with it.  This helps the manager be prepared to provide necessary guidance / training, plan for corrective measures and be a coach available through the course of task execution.

[5] What is/are the support requirements, or is there any training needed to help proper task execution?  This question is more to the team members who need to be upfront and clear about what kind of support they will need from their peers or seniors to help execute the tasks or any training / guidance they would need.  The objective is to make sure the expectations are set clearly by the team members for the managers, who can then help them with proper support and guidance.  It will also enable the manager make sure he device proper checks and measures to help ensure tracking of the task and signal any concerns to aide triggering of backup plan or corrective measures.

If managers expect their employees to be accountable, then they must set the right example.  These leaders need to handle tough issues, volunteer for tough assignments, and go the extra mile to help the organization and more importantly their team members to succeed.  This will automatically set the tone for team members to put in their best efforts to fulfil, meet or exceed the expectations set for them.

Explore posts in the same categories: Leadership, People Management

One Comment on “Setting Right Expectations”

  1. Rajiv Trivedi Says:

    Very good blog nimit!,

    Thats need of time.. Much balanced article.

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