The Miracle of Setting Clear Expectations With Employees

Confident female designer working on a digital tablet in red

After five months of running on uneven sidewalks, river trails, and through a strawberry patch in southern California,  I ran my first half-marathon. My husband and kids flew out to Disneyland with me for the race.

On the big day, I ran a good race and felt fantastic, notwithstanding my pace, slow, like a diver with heavy boots. When I finally reached the finish line my family was nowhere in sight. After 30 minutes or so of searching, I called my husband, who revealed he and the kids were having brunch at a local cafe. I was as angry as a wasp. How could they not be here to celebrate with me? Calmly my husband offered this truth, “You never discussed us meeting you at the finish line. I assumed you’d come back to the hotel after your race.”

I fully expected my family would meet me at the finish line. But I hadn’t specifically expressed this. Why would I expect that they’d be there when I hadn’t asked them? When I didn’t give them the endpoint, and when they had no idea what time I’d finish.

Looking back now, my expectation was ludicrous. Not spelling out your precise performance expectations for employees is just as absurd. You have to set expectations, get employees to understand and agree to your expectations, and you have to lay out consequences for what happens if expectations aren’t met.

Here’s how to set clear expectations in 3 easy steps.

1. Set Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations makes it easier for employees to meet your expectations. Set clear expectations and check with your employee to make sure they understand them.

Here’s an example of clear expectations for employees:

“In all incoming phone calls with customers, I want you to start with a ‘lead-in’ as explained in Myra’s training. You are not to probe or transfer a customer before using the lead-in. As a reminder, the 3 steps for the lead-in are….”

2. Get Agreement From Employees On Expectations

I fly a lot and on every single flight, I observe a flight attendant going to the passengers seated in the exit rows and saying something similar to this.

“Are you aware that you are seated in an exit row?” She or he always waits for a verbal “yes.” “In the event of loss of cabin pressure or an emergency, are you willing to assist?” Again, she waits for a verbal “yes.”

Getting agreement on performance expectations is literally this simple. State your expectations and get a verbal confirmation from your employee that they understand and agree with the expectations. If they don’t agree or understand something, it is up to them to ask questions and to seek clarification.

3. Explain the Consequences of Not Meeting Expectations

The thing that makes removing my daughter’s phone privileges easy, and it happens regularly, is that she knew upfront what the consequences would be. Make sure your employees know the consequences up front.

I am working with a client to gain adherence to the attendance policy in a call center. The attendance policy was already quite clear. The problem is, the consequences were not consistently applied. So, I coached a supervisor on how to establish consequences for attendance problems. I suggested the supervisor say to a particular problem employee:

“This shift is from 3:00pm – 11:00pm. I need someone who will be here no later than 2:55pm to start the shift daily and I hope that person is you. If you are not able to immediately begin getting to work on time, discipline will follow and it may include termination.”

4. Follow-through on Consequences

The key to employee discipline is follow-through. If you are inconsistent, you send a message to employees that they can push the limits – and some will do just that.

Miraculously, when you establish clear expectations, get employee agreement on expectations, and you ensure consequences are revealed up front, employees are much more likely to meet your expectations.