How well are you managing expectations?

Recently, a client of mine – let’s call her Sarah – was telling me about some issues she was having with her team. I asked her if she could distil the issues down into one sentence.

After a longish pause, she replied: ‘They’re not performing the way I expect them to.’

‘How do you expect them to perform?’

‘I’m not sure what you mean. Like professional marketers, I guess.’

‘And how do professional marketers perform?’

‘Well, you know …’ and then she laughed. ‘Okay, I get it. I can’t even put into words how I think they should perform. Actually, it reminds me of something the ad man, Roy Williams said – my old boss used to have it on the wall – “The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” It’s no wonder my team aren’t living up to my expectations when I can’t articulate them myself and clearly haven’t conveyed them to the team.’

We grabbed a set of sticky notes and on each one, Sarah wrote down one expectation. Once she was done, we reviewed them and discovered that they fell into one of four categories:

Our culture

What does it mean to work here? What are the organisation’s norms for everyday things like time-keeping, dress, when to take lunch, use of own phones/social media? Whether you’re a new starter who has no idea what the world of work is like or a transfer from another office with preconceptions of behaviour, you need to know how we work together here.

Our work

This is about more than a job description. What do we actually do on a day-to-day basis? Where do our responsibilities start and end? How do we measure the quality of our work? Who is accountable for what? When might it be necessary to work outside of the role’s usual parameters?

Our reporting

How do we communicate with each other? Does it depend on what we’re communicating? When is it appropriate to use instant messaging and when do we need to commit to email? Shall we just pick up the phone? Is the communication chain clear – who tells what to whom and when? If it’s a formal report, what’s the preferred format?

Our time

What does ‘by Monday’ mean? First thing on Monday, any time during normal office hours, by the end of Monday? Are there response times a team is expected to meet? Within Sarah’s team, she would like to discuss and agree a deadline based on priorities, encouraging her team to be realistic and for them to challenge her if they feel she’s not being realistic.

Having done this exercise, Sarah decided to dedicate her next team meeting to discussing the points she’d come up with, inviting her colleagues to suggest others. She also decided that her final question would be to ask her team what they expect of her as their manager. I’m looking forward to hearing how that meeting went next time I see her.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: are you clear on what’s expected of you and what you expect of others? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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