How to Set Expectations for Employees 

by Team RallyBright May 24th, 2022

One of the most critical yet underrated management skills is knowing how to set expectations for employees. Effectively communicating expectations is essential for keeping everyone on the same page and ensuring that employees understand their roles and responsibilities.

To set expectations effectively, strive to be clear about what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how your organization will measure success. It’s also important to set realistic expectations and to provide employees with the resources and support they need to meet those expectations. 

While setting expectations is primarily the responsibility of business leaders and managers, the most successful employees take ownership of their responsibilities and are clear about their goals and objectives. By opening a dialogue between employees and organizational leaders, you can create a culture of accountability to help employees meet personal career goals that are aligned with the company’s values and objectives.

Why It's Important to Set Expectations for Your Team

 When you set expectations for your team, you can provide everyone with a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. This puts everyone on the same page and helps to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. Additionally, setting expectations helps ensure that employees are held accountable for their performance and understand the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.

Setting expectations is essential for several reasons:

  • Helps employees understand their roles and how they fit into the bigger picture 
  • Sets the stage for ongoing professional development opportunities
  • Reinforces company's values
  • Provides a clear framework for measuring success
  • Increases employee engagement
  • Builds trust between leaders and employees

As external and internal issues cause shifts and fluctuations in team size, absences, and work roles, it’s important to readdress expectations and how teams and managers can address changes together. Changes in the workplace, such as remote work opportunities, can lead to challenges regarding expectations as well. 

Team Expectations vs. Employee Expectations

Every employee within an organization is required to meet certain expectations. Employees also often work within a team expected to produce outcomes as a group. While employee expectations focus on an individual's daily tasks, team expectations are typically broader and encompass how the team will work together to achieve success.

Employee Expectations

Employee expectations focus on an individual's job duties and performance. Clear and concise employee expectations help employees understand their roles and contribute to the organization's success.

Employee expectations might include:

Knowledge of products or services and organizational policies and performance

  • Attendance requirements
  • Basic knowledge of roles and responsibilities within the company, including specific job roles and tasks
  • Expected modes of internal communication
  • Expected production levels and time frames in which projects should be completed

Team Expectations

Team expectations are often more general and encompass how the team will work together to achieve success. 

Team expectations might include:

  • Courteous and respectful communication
  • Accountability for each member’s work
  • A willingness across the team to help other team members
  • Adherence to guidelines for effective collaboration
  • Openness to ideas for improvement and other constructive feedback

Tips for Expectation-Setting

As a leader, it's your responsibility to set clear expectations. However, this can require a careful balance. You don't want to be too vague or too specific. If you're too vague, employees won't know what's expected of them. If you're too specific, you may micromanage your team. Instead, it’s helpful to strive to find a middle ground where you're providing enough guidance to ensure employees know what they need to do while still allowing them the freedom to complete their work in their own way. 

By clearly communicating and setting realistic, reasonable tasks and deadlines, you can coach employees to perform at their best to meet individual and organizational goals. These tips can help you define clear expectations for your employees. 

Set Expectations Early

An accurate job description can help new employees understand their roles when applying for the position. Early onboarding techniques that outline and emphasize expectations and daily requirements, including responsibilities, productivity expectations, compliance requirements, and communication requirements, make it easy for new employees to naturally incorporate these actions into the learning process. If responsibilities change, notifying employees of the changes immediately can help avoid misunderstandings. Similarly, leaders who communicate how these changes affect expectations if organizational structures change (think remote work due to COVID restrictions) are more likely to gain their employees' trust.

Communicate Clearly

When you communicate expectations in an open and clear manner, it becomes easier to create a dialogue that puts everyone on the same wavelength. This involves active listening which can be accomplished by taking the time to repeat back what you heard to ensure understanding and by asking open-ended questions that probe for clarification. Leaders should always avoid making assumptions about whether or not an employee comprehends what is required of them. If possible, it's helpful to provide a written document that outlines specific expectations for the employee. This can serve as a reference for both the leader and the employee if questions or misunderstandings arise.

Use SMART Goals

SMART goals offer an actionable template that clarifies expectations when outlining performance goals and can help individual contributors align their goals with company goals. The SMART in SMART goals is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound; using these indicators can provide a clear outline of performance expectations for individual employees and teams. 

Solicit Feedback

By providing employees with opportunities to give feedback, you can ensure that your expectations are realistic and that your employees feel supported. When feedback goes both ways, leaders are open to hearing suggestions for improvement from their team members. You can work toward a feedback culture that improves employee collaboration and performance by working together to create expectations.

By offering multiple avenues of communication by which employees can offer suggestions, you can improve the way tasks are approached and spur conversations about employee expectations. 

Drive Accountability

Setting expectations is only relevant if employees and team leaders are accountable for meeting them. Instead of treating expectations as a checklist that leads to positive or negative performance reviews, it’s a good idea to follow up with specific actions and tools to gauge success, and then reevaluate when necessary.

By using measurable data to review progress on goals, you can determine how well your expectations are met and what types of changes you may need to make. Performance review software can help you build productive teams, identify gaps and resolve issues. Evaluating employee performance and measuring employee satisfaction can help define conversations about future employee expectations and team goals. You can also measure your accountability for providing clear and reasonable expectations by measuring employee satisfaction.

Be Consistent

By using consistent behavior in your expectations and follow-through, you can build confidence among team members. If you're constantly changing the goalposts, it'll be difficult for employees to feel like they're meeting your expectations. Your employees should also know what to expect from you as a leader. This means being consistent in your leadership style and your communication methods with employees. Respond to feedback promptly and keep an open avenue of communication between company leaders and team members.

Want to Know More About Setting Expectations?

When it comes to setting expectations for employees, clarity is key. As a leader, communication with your team is one of the most important tools at your disposal. Setting clear expectations is the first step in creating reasonable goals and motivating your employees to perform at their best levels.

If you need help learning how to set expectations for your employees, many resources are available to assist you. Professional development tools can help you hone your leadership skills and better create and manage expectations.

RallyBright's performance development tools can help you set clear expectations, collect employee feedback, and improve communication company-wide. Schedule a demo to see how it works and read our blog for more tips on leadership and management.

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