Think back to the first day at your current job. You were not sure where things were, who you were working with, and maybe you didn’t even have a concrete grasp of your responsibilities.
In an organization with a robust work culture, the answers to your first-day questions become clear very quickly. Ideally, they’re made clear before you even start your first day, because the reality is that unclear expectations are stressful. One study found that the biggest source of stress for employees was not knowing what was expected of them from team leaders.
Why Establishing Clear Expectations Is Critical
When team members are stressed, their performance, creativity, and efficiency all suffer. Two of the other most common symptoms of unclear expectations are a lack of engagement and negative interactions with co-workers. Multiply those effects across many teams and it’s easy to see how unclear expectations can wreak havoc on the bottom line of a business.
Think of a time you’ve taken on a home project, only to realize you didn’t have the parts you needed or that the instructions were unclear. It probably took you hours longer than you expected versus a project you were already well-versed in.
The same is true in the workplace. When team members understand their tasks, their responsibilities, and the way to interact with others, it drives forward creativity, productivity, employee satisfaction, and retention. Ultimately, all these positive impacts result in better customer experiences.
So, how do you get there?
Creating a Culture of Clear Expectations
One of the main problems with unclear expectations is that many leaders think of it as a logistical problem to be solved with different systems. While it’s true systems are an integral piece of the puzzle, the root of the problem goes deeper than that. Setting expectations on a clear path starts with the development of working relationships.
Here are five ways leaders can work to create clear expectations.
1. Establish Clear Values
Between emails, calls, meetings, texts, and presentations, there are typically thousands of interactions every day within an organization.
Setting a clear expectation for every single interaction is impossible, which is why effective leaders rely on clear overarching values to guide those interactions.
For example, making it clear that all team members should treat each other with positive intent establishes the expectation that defines the root of communication between team members.
2. Exemplify Positive Relationships
If relationships are the cornerstone of clear expectations, leaders must be shining examples of those interactions. For example, leaders should always use language like “we” and “our” to describe challenges and successes among the team. Doing so sets the expectation that leadership celebrates the efforts of others and shares their burdens.
3. Listen, Share, Collaborate, Repeat
One of the most beneficial things a new leader can do is set aside 90 minutes to sit down and talk with each member of their new team. Find out what their concerns are, what their goals are, and what they enjoy doing.
Simply listen and then gather the team to share what you’ve heard and allow feedback. This sets a clear expectation that your team works collaboratively to solve problems.
4. Provide Proactive Support
All too often, employees struggle to complete tasks because they don’t have the resources they need to do their jobs. They might spend hours stressing about what to do. But, if they have a leader who regularly makes a point of checking in, they’ll have the confidence to reach out and ask for clarification or support.
Leaders who are proactive about asking team members what they need set the expectation that no one should struggle — to understand what’s expected of them or what tools they have at their disposal to complete their work.
5. Revise Systems to Serve
Beyond relationships, leadership must evaluate the systems that serve them. At this stage, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of “we’ve always done it this way.” But, systems must be constantly evaluated for their ability to serve the teams that use them and the customers that ultimately rely on them.
Remember that systems are not the first step toward setting clear expectations. It’s a hard concept for leaders to remember when they are constantly bombarded with new apps and software technology that promise better efficiency, creativity, and productivity. But the best tech can’t compare to the benefit of having a team where relationships, interactions, and culture are persistently positive.
Success demands clear expectations and clear expectations start with great culture. Start revamping your company culture by downloading our free workbook.
Fired-Up! Culture is a business management consulting firm with corporate headquarters in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past several decades, our team has partnered with hundreds of diverse organizations and leaders around the globe to build cultures that engage people and achieve breakthrough results.