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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

15 smart strategies for setting clear employee expectations

Clear expectations are essential for managers to get the results they want while empowering employees to do their best work.

15 smart strategies for setting clear employee expectations
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

As a business leader, you’re not only responsible for completing your own work but also for ensuring that your employees are clear on what they need to do and have the resources and leeway to accomplish the goals you’ve set. Your team members want and need to know what you’re expecting of them, but if you don’t establish and present this information clearly and carefully, it can lead to confusion and anxiety.

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It’s critical to check in with your employees and ensure that they understand what needs to be done to meet (and hopefully exceed) your expectations. Below, the members of Fast Company Executive Board share 15 smart strategies for setting expectations with your employees the right way.

1. CONNECT OBJECTIVES TO ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS.

Clearly defining objectives that connect to overall organizational goals is key to ensuring that employees understand exactly what is expected of them and how they contribute to the larger whole. Add measurable results, too—each quarter, perhaps—and allow your employees the space and responsibility in which to achieve them, as well as clearly identifiable markers to help guide them to their goal. – Eric Schurke, Moneypenny

2. ALLOW FOR FEEDBACK AND DIALOGUE.

Setting expectations should never be a monologue. While it is important to be clear and precise about your expectations, allowing for feedback and dialogue will allow you to identify potential gaps and opportunities to fine-tune the messaging. Keep in mind when setting expectations that this, in turn, creates expectations from the other person that must be addressed and managed. – Jana Vondran, Ingram Micro

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3. SET EXPECTATIONS BASED ON RECIPROCITY.

In today’s “Big Quit” world, consider adopting a new expectation-setting strategy based on reciprocity. Clearly define what the employee can expect from you and the organization in support of them committing to specific results. Employees need to believe their leaders have their backs and they have access to the resources necessary to achieve their goals. – Steve Dion, Dion Leadership

4. SET EXPECTATIONS DOWN IN WRITING.

Get it in writing. Agree on what success looks like, then go one step further and align on what qualifies as “outstanding.” This enables team members to know where they stand, and it helps reduce any surprises when it comes time for performance reviews and bonuses. – Jessica Federer, Boston Millennia Partners

5. GET TO KNOW EACH EMPLOYEE’S SKILL SET.

In order to set expectations, you need to know the employee’s skill set and what they can accomplish. There’s no need to set someone up for failure. Define your goals, be clear when defining the strategy, and use examples of how to get there. Then, be open to questions so your employees don’t feel like they need to struggle through the task without asking any questions along the way. – Martin Rowinski, Boardsi

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6. PROVIDE TIME AND RESOURCES, AND HELP THEM PRIORITIZE TASKS.

An important part of setting expectations is ensuring team members have the adequate time and resources to deliver on them. In today’s world, most people are overwhelmed, with an unmanageable to-do list and no realistic way of getting it all done well. That’s why a critical component of setting expectations is to align on the most critical outcomes to deliver on, as well as those that can be delayed or deleted. – Marc Inzelstein, Indiggo – Return on Leadership

7. BE TRANSPARENT ABOUT WHAT YOU EXPECT AND WHY, AS WELL AS HOW TO GET THERE.

Setting expectations for an employee or team takes three things. The first is to be fully transparent. Explain what the expectation is and how you came up with it. Then, give a roadmap for how the employee or team is going to meet and exceed the expectation. Without all three factors, there will be confusion and a lack of buy-in. – Carl Oliveri, Robin

8. CO-CREATE EXPECTATIONS.

Start with your ideas, then have your team members add their expectations as well. What they come up with may surprise you. They may expect to tackle problems you hadn’t considered or complete projects you thought were too ambitious. Give the people who work for you ownership over their careers, and they’ll accomplish far more than any list assigned to them. – Barry Fiske, LiveArea, a Merkle Company

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9. ESTABLISH A COMPREHENSIVE ONBOARDING PROCESS.

To set expectations from the start, we established “Bug Bite Thing Bootcamp.” This takes place on the employee’s first day. The onboarding process covers the company’s history, a product map, how the product works, and company benefits. All employees are required to attend. We focus on making it a fun experience by including games and quizzes. – Kelley Higney, Bug Bite Thing

10. SCHEDULE REGULAR ONE-TO-ONES.

You should establish a regular cadence of one-to-one interactions and feedback. Weekly or biweekly one-to-one meetings are effective when done right. You can also have quarterly “tri-talks” between a team member, yourself, and your boss (the one-up manager). This keeps everyone aligned on both expectations and progress. – Kevin Namaky, Gurulocity Brand Management Institute

11. INCORPORATE BONUSES.

Build a bonus or compensation structure that aligns organizational needs with employee deliverables. Set large project goals that include micro-goals to be delivered in a specific timeframe in order to achieve the bonus or compensation. I recommend quarterly or semiannual structures, depending on the team member’s role. – Amanda Dorenberg, COMMB

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12. REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT.

Repeat your expectations all the time. Say them. Write them down. Put them on the wall. Overcommunicate. It will seem absurd to you to repeat yourself, but you’ll be shocked by how many need the constant reminders. – Ryan Anderson, Filevine

13. TAILOR EXPECTATIONS AND ACCOUNT FOR ANY NEEDED ACTIVITIES.

Setting goals collaboratively and holistically can help. Doing so collaboratively means having a discussion and tailoring expectations based on the employee’s skill set—you shouldn’t set a performance objective that is unattainable by that employee. Doing so holistically entails accounting for all core priorities—for example, setting expectations around “ad hoc” activities, such as serving on a culture committee. – Krishna Kutty, Kuroshio Consulting Inc.

14. INCORPORATE BOTH VERBAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION.

When setting goals, communication is key. While verbal communication in the form of one-on-one interactions and feedback makes a team stronger, written communication for each department, including a well-established roadmap, sets priorities straight. It places the whole team in tandem with the aims and expectations of the organization and helps them exceed expectations while pursuing their ambitions. – Irfan Khan, CLOUDSUFI

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15. GIVE A ‘SCHOOL PRESENTATION.’

Go for the old “school presentation” method. Create a procedure, a presentation, and a Q&A session so employees will feel not only heard and listened to but also fully seen. Everyone has a different method of retaining knowledge, so meet with each person one-on-one, off the cuff and out of the blue, to gauge their opinions. It works. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

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