Nine Tips for Ensuring People Meet Your Expectations

John R. Stoker is the author of  “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of Dialogue WORKS, Inc.  His organization helps clients and their teams improve leadership engagement in order to achieve superior results. He is an expert in the fields of leadership, change, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked and spoken to such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and AbbVie. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. 

I was recently visiting with a friend who just so happens to be a vice president within her company. I could tell that she was frustrated so I asked her about it. She told me that she was frustrated because of something that had happened in an important meeting. She indicated that one of her colleagues had spent most of their meeting complaining about having to fire one of his key people. When she asked why he had to terminate the individual, he indicated that his employee was not meeting his expectations. When she asked him if he had given this individual that feedback, he stated, “No. I hate doing that kind of thing, but now I have to get rid of him anyway, which is even harder.” She was troubled by not only his lack of candor, but also of his unwillingness to manage his own expectations. 

So how does this happen? Generally, most people are eager to perform to their manager’s expectations. If they are failing to meet those expectations, it’s often for two reasons: employees are unsure what those expectations are and they avoid asking for clarification to keep from looking bad, or the manager is not using the magic words, “You are not meeting my expectations.” If neither party engages, then the working relationship can become an exercise in frustration and resentment which may end in termination or the employee quitting. Neither party is well served.  

Here are nine tips to help ensure that your expectations of others are being met. 

Create a “Candid Contract.” A candid contract is a mutual agreement between a manager and a team member for how they will communicate with one another. For example, the manager might offer, “I will always give you honest feedback about anything that you are doing, saying, or wearing that could detract from your creditability. Is that agreeable to you?” Likewise, the manager should invite the team member to give him or her feedback about their performance as a manager or what they could do to help the employee complete their responsibilities. In essence, each party agrees to share openly when the other is not meeting their expectations. 

People like to know when their contribution adds value to the enterprise.


Clarify your expectations. When my team members don’t meet my expectations, I usually begin by examining my own behavior. I ask myself, “Did I precisely identify my expectations before sharing them? Did I communicate those expectations clearly and specifically? Was the individual’s lack of performance the result of how I gave them direction?” In other words, I think about myself and my actions first before I try to pin a person’s poor performance solely on them. More often than not, I discover that my own unclear expectations contributed to the results that I received.

Link performance to a purpose. When giving an assignment to someone, we often forget to share how a person’s performance contributes to the success of the team and the organization. Many employees are motivated by the understanding that what they do has a broader implication for success and contributes to a greater objective. Linking a task to a higher purpose establishes value for the contribution of the individual. 

Communicate your expectations. Deliberately and distinctly identify your expectations for the task to be completed. Explore steps or milestones for completion.  Identify specific dates and times that each step should be completed. Invite the individual to share their concerns and ask questions about anything you are asking them to do. 

Check their understanding. Ask questions that allow the individual to demonstrate their understanding of why, what, how, and when an assignment is to be completed. You might even consider asking the individual to give the assignment to you that you just gave to them. The sole purpose of this step is for them to demonstrate to you their complete understanding. Don’t assume anything. Just because you think you have been clear, doesn’t mean you have been. Be sure to ask clarifying questions that will reveal any deficiency in their understanding.   

Offer your support. If you give an assignment and never invite the person to solicit your support, they may never seek your help when things go awry. Telling a person that you expect them to seek your assistance and counsel when things are not going as planned will facilitate the completion of a task. You want team members to involve you before the deadline for completion is missed. Frequently offering support makes it much more likely that someone will come to you when they need to, rather than avoiding you until it is too late.   

Check-in with them. This isn’t about micromanaging someone, but it is about being aware, offering support, and expressing encouragement when people are struggling. You might even identify with the individual how often they would like you to check in with them at the beginning of a project and throughout the process. 

Provide feedback. Make an agreement with the team member about how and when they would like to receive feedback. Be sure to provide not only critical observations but also positive feedback. When you reinforce the positive about a person’s performance, you ensure that they will continue to enact that same behavior. 

Express appreciation. People like to know when their contribution adds value to the enterprise. Even though you may thank people for what they do, you should realize that you are also expressing value for them. However, to have the greatest impact, your appreciation must be specific and sincere. You can do this by simply mentioning what the person did and then sharing the positive impact that their action had on the outcome. Then call them by name and say, “Thank you!” Or, “I really appreciate your efforts.” 

A manager should never be in the position of having to fire someone without that person understanding what was expected and how those expectations were going unmet. Along with creating an efficient and productive working relationship with your team members, implementing these tips will help you successfully manage assignments and directions to achieve the best possible results.

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