Defining expectations is a critical aspect of a manager's job. It ensures that each team member understands their role and works successfully towards the organisation's overall goals. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to define expectations clearly and only around half of all workers believe that they know what's expected of them in their job. In this article, we describe how managers can define expectations and explain why doing so is important.


Why is it important to set up expectations?

When expectations aren't outlined clearly, team members may not prioritize their workload effectively and their productivity could be hindered. 

Unclear expectations can also inhibit communication and collaboration between team members. If employees struggle to understand how their roles interlink with their colleagues, they will struggle to progress toward a common goal.

This is important in remote work setup. 16% of companies across the world are fully remote and many more are expected to follow suit. The benefits of this approach are clear: better work-life balance for employees, higher rates of productivity, and reduced overheads for employers. 

The trouble is that communication can suffer if employees aren't given adequate tools and motivation to keep in touch. Without face-to-face communication, it's easier for misunderstandings to take place. Clear, concise communication of all kinds, particularly when setting goals and defining expectations, is particularly important for managers of remote teams.


How can managers define expectations?


Here are five steps managers can take to successfully define expectations:


1. Align expectations with strengths and skills

When defining expectations it's important to make sure they're achievable. Assess the skill set of individual employees and assign duties that play to their strengths. When assigning tasks to help team members develop certain areas or learn new skills, be realistic about what they can achieve and make it clear to them that expanding their skillset is part of the expectation you're putting on them.

A benefit of aligning expectations with strengths is that it can help employees feel empowered and motivated to achieve goals. By highlighting which strengths and skills you expect employees to draw from, you show them that you've acknowledged their qualities and value their expertise.


2. Describe the end goal and how to measure it

Expectations should focus on clear, measurable goals. This helps you to avoid using vague language that could be misinterpreted. It also gives team members something specific to work towards which can heighten their productivity. 

Your description of the goal should be detailed enough that team members know how much of their time to spend on it and when they're expected to meet it. They should also know how the goal is measured so that they can gauge their progress while working towards it. 

It's incredibly helpful to explain what the purpose of the goal is and how it fits into the overall team or business aims. This gives team members additional context to further clarify what's expected of them. Plus, employees are often more effective and motivated when they understand how their individual goals fit into the bigger picture.


3. Set out who is responsible and accountable for the end goal

It's vital that managers clearly define who is responsible and who is accountable for each goal so that the relevant team members can take ownership of tasks and maintain progress. There's a difference between responsible and accountable people. The person responsible is the one doing the work itself, whereas the person accountable is the one who ensures the work is successfully delivered. The latter is usually a manager or supervisor.

Even if it seems obvious when delegating tasks that the team member is the responsible person and you, as the manager, are the accountable person, it's important to make this clear to define expectations properly. In some situations, there could be multiple responsible persons, or there may be additional people involved in the delivery of a project, such as a subject matter expert who must be consulted before the project is delivered. It's good practice to always define the responsible and accountable people involved in a project so that everyone understands what's expected of them.


4. Reinforce expectations with regular reminders

It's not uncommon for team members to forget information or lose sight of key goals or expectations, particularly when working on long-term projects or performing repetitive duties. Managers should therefore reinforce expectations regularly. Doing so can also help team members to clarify goals or report on any difficulties they're facing in meeting the expectations placed on them.

Reinforcing expectations can take place on an ad-hoc basis when communicating with team members, but it's better if it occurs during structured check-ins. Performance reviews are a good opportunity to review the duties and goals of individual employees. Team meetings allow managers to go over the expectations of the team as a whole and reinforce the roles and responsibilities of each team member.


5. Review completed projects to clarify where expectations were met

It's important to continually review expectations to determine when they have or haven't been met. You could do this on a project-by-project basis if it suits your workplace, or you could conduct periodic performance reviews. Outline what the expectations were, how successfully they were met, and what can be learned for future projects.

When reviews highlight unmet expectations, they give team members an opportunity to raise problems they face. For example, perhaps the original expectations were unrealistic, or unclear expectations of other team members inhibited the employee's ability to fulfill their own tasks. Work with them to continually improve the process of defining expectations in the future. 


Successful management begins with clear expectations

The success of a team depends upon each team member understanding their role in delivering a united goal. By defining expectations as early as possible, managers can ensure their team works together successfully.