Clarity & Conflict – 3 Rules for Setting Clear Expectations

By Chris Ihrig

Our job as leaders is to take the ambiguity out of the conversation.

I’ve talked with hundreds of leaders and surveyed thousands of employees over the past decade and determined that unclear expectations — ambiguity — is one of the greatest hindrances to a fired-up culture. A culture that the best talent wants to be a part of.

Time and again I see teams rate low on a seemingly simple statement:

“I know what is expected of me at work.”

We work hard to hire good people. We hire those people to do a specific job that we believe they will thrive in doing. We equip them (we think) with the tools to succeed in their role. I know executives and managers believe these things because I talk to executives and managers every day.

But I’ve seen the data. And I know that the majority of your employees feel like they don’t have a clear path forward, that they don’t know exactly what is expected of them when they walk through the door every morning.

To set clear expectations among your employees, follow these three simple rules

RULE #1 — Repeatedly Communicate Expectations

Most leaders I speak to believe wholeheartedly that they have communicated their expectations to each member of their team.

And most of them have. Once.

But if we want to ensure clear communication of our expectations, we need to meet regularly with each member of our team to reiterate what we expect of them.

Individuals vary — some may require a brief daily check-in; others might thrive in a one-meeting-per-month environment — but my rule of thumb is that you should have a meaningful conversation about goals and expectations, at least two times per month.

Meeting frequently with your staff does at least two things:

First, it gives you a chance to repeat your expectations and check in with your employees about their personal goals, their current workload, any intra-office connections they .need to make.

Second, it forces you to get to know your staff on a personal level. When you’re meeting frequently, you can’t stay on work stuff all the time. Good managers know that they need to really get to know each member of their team.

That leads us to rule #2

RULE #2 — Meet People Where They Are

Each person who hears the statement “I know what is expected of me at work” hears something a little different.

It depends on the work style of each employee. It depends on what is happening in their personal lives. It depends on what is happening in their work-life and how big the stack of to-dos is on their desk.

That’s why it’s so important to know about and care for each of your employees.

As you meet regularly with each of your employees, you’ll come to understand the issues within their own career and within your organization that matter most to each of them. You’ll come to a unique understanding with each person about what “I know what is expected of me at work” means to them.

This shared understanding and shared vocabulary is a crucial bond for every manager to have with every one of her employees.

RULE #3 — Triple Check Understanding

It takes persistence and discipline to arrive at a shared understanding and shared vocabulary with each of your employees. What one person might hear as po-TAY-to, the person in the next office might take as po-TAH-to. It takes a skilled manager to know his staff well enough to distinguish.

Even well-intentioned managers need to pay heed to clarity rule #3 — triple check understanding.

Within every conversation, managers need to be active listeners, checking understanding, checking it again, and then checking in once more. Use phrases like:

What I think I heard was _________

It sounds like you’re feeling _______

Let me make sure I understand _________

Follow these three rules of clarity to be a leader who is understood, respected and followed.