Whenever we start working in a new organization, with a new boss, on a new team, or new project we all need to know what is expected of us. It is a simple reality but for some reason harder to come by these days. “I have no idea what is expected of me” is not an uncommon refrain I hear from clients.
When I discuss the need for clear expectations with executives, I often hear push back: “they know what I expect”, and “I covered that day one”. Yet when I meet with the team reporting to the executive they are often less sure about the expectations for their role. Though there are probably numerous reasons for this, one of the top reasons is that leaders universally have less time for reflection and planning and setting expectations requires both. It is a practice worth the time because it is strongly linked to strategy execution.
In the June 2008 Harvard Business Review Article by Gary Nelson, Karla Martin and Elizabeth Powers, the authors report Bain & Company’s research that found the number one trait for strategy execution was, “Everyone has a good idea of the decisions and actions for which he or she is responsible.”
For me it is clear. If you are not sure what is expected of you, or the decisions and actions for which you will be held accountable, find out.
I created a process for leaders and teams to take charge of setting their own expectations. In my experience this is better than “top down”, especially at the senior level. Expectations created by the leader, in their language and about their business unit are more realistic and clear. They still need to find out what really matters to their boss, but this gets the process started. The first draft they create provides enough information for the boss to more easily and quickly provide feedback. The discussion about expectations is more collaborative (which is the way it should be) and the team or direct reports take greater ownership, always a good thing. This process is best when done at the start of a new role, project or team. It is also useful when there is a big change in leadership, strategy or business priorities. But anytime is a good time if you feel you aren’t clear on expectations.
It is so interesting that this elegant process is so often overlooked or undermined. Yet the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations diminishes trust between leaders and their teams at every level. Once trust is diminished it is harder to fix. This is easily avoided by taking charge of the expectations conversation. If you are waiting for someone else to do it, it might not happen.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.