Setting Expectations


Create a Habit of Setting Expectations

Arguably the most important trait of a leader is their ability to set clear expectations. It doesn’t matter if you are managing hundreds, thousands or just your self.  Setting expectations not only involves Vision to imagine a direction, but also includes a method and habit of clear communication. Our ability to set Expectations is responsible for what we accomplish, how we are viewed, and if others choose to follow us.  Expectation setting is critical when developing your “Personal Brand” or “Corporate Brand”.  It is important when you start out and imperative for you to grow.  It is literally where Vision and Communication intersect.  They are that important.

Like many of the things discussed in our blog, Expectation setting is not only a skill but it also needs to be a habit.  The deeper this is ingrained in someone, the more “natural” of a leader they appear.  Further more, instilling this skill/habit in your staff may be the single greatest thing you can do to build your organizations ability to generate revenue!

So many I have mentored have one of the two elements of this habit.  Many people have natural abilities to either envision how things need to happen to achieve “Success” or have a gift for communicating it, getting people to practice both elements simultaneously takes time and dedicated effort but is well worth it.

Establishing this habit will act as a catalyst for your team.  If you have been looking for something to kick start your group, you may have just found it! Supervisors or Managers that develop good leadership styles and habits have much higher productivity rates and lower attrition.  Managers don’t have to be leaders, they only need to hold people accountable and make sure the widgets get made (whatever your “widget” happens to be).  Leaders don’t have to be Managers.  Leaders are found in every position, at every age and skill level.  Leadership is a skill set that can be developed and enhanced, but they are also inherent and linked to ones personal value system.  Seldom do I find organizations value their internal leaders or even recognize them to a great extent.  Management is expected to be the leadership and the two are often confused.  Yet when an organization champions this leadership habit great things can happen.

Case study-

I have had a career of working with great leaders in their field and it was Lloyd Hill who told me personally that the key to Leadership in his organization was “the ability to set clear expectations”.  Mr Hill knew that employees WANT to contribute to their corporate environment and corporate health and that giving them the tools to do so would pay off in spades for any company that could assume this as a culture.

So what did he do?

He gathered a team to create the greatest recruitment, on-boarding and training tools (and teams)in his industry.  He created systems that allowed his Operational management teams the TIME needed to Train, Instill, and held accountable the employees to the expectations set through Training/On-boarding.  When I worked for him, I literally HIRED and FIRED by the Company Core Values(Expectations).  Performance is important, but is much easier to manage a group by broader expectations setting (clearly performance IS one of the expectations, but not the only one).  Managing this way creates the best outcomes for all involved.

When performance is the only expectation, culture suffers

When culture suffers you find increased turnover, higher costs and jeopardized loyalties (Customer and Employee). But put the right PEOPLE in the system and set the expectations and you are much less likely to have to Fire them!  This was NOT what most of that industry was doing at the time(early -mid 90’s).  I left that company 20 years ago and I can still name their Core Values!

Huge Results!

When I joined the company they were an “up and coming chain” they had about 500 Restaurants Nationwide, but when I left the company just 4 years later they had nearly 1400 Franchised Restaurants Internationally and were dominating their field.  Applebee’s International (A.I.I.) was forging new ground and everybody wanted to be a part of it.  I trained teams that went to Germany, Holland, Russia and Mexico to help establish this brand and it ALL came down to Setting Clear Expectations!


3 Keys to Setting Expectations

1.  Decide which is the most important thing to expect
  1. This starts with Business analysis– know your business, know your industry, determine difference and direction
  2. Utilize Strategic Planning to set direction
  3. Surround yourself with the right people to contribute and execute
  4. Knowing what went right (avoid over focusing on mistakes and repeat successes)


2.  Look for important “Opportunities” to Communicate these expectations
  1. Internal Communications – Not just in a drink the Kool-aid meeting, insure a consistently delivered message at all levels.  Repetition, written, branding(internal marketing) “Walk the Talk”
  2. Employee interactions – Interview, orientation, Training, reinforce daily (High fives) Employee group meetings, 1:1, terminations.
  3. External Communications – Corporate Marketing,  Social Media, & Advertising


3.  Understanding challenges in today’s work environment
  1. Location, location, location– Which is becoming more difficult with today’s changing workplace. Decentralizing posses a particular threat for modern leaders(more on that later)
    Employees thrive in situations of clear cut, well defined expectations of outcomes, behaviors, and processes.
  2. The right people – Unseasoned Management, unaligned management and selfish management will dissolve the expectation
  3. Reputation – media – bad corporations/companies are “greedy”, YELP reviews – culture shifts quickly now and your employees have a lot of outside influences
  4. TIME to do this!   Dedicated time to communication


I am sure you see the motif here, to set clear expectations there needs to be a plan, a communication plan, time and accountability for the actions that people choose once they have a clear understanding of what the expectation IS.  

Tip – Always question if an employee understood the Expectation before reacting to their actions.


If an individual is not meeting your expectations the root cause may be that;

  1. Your message didn’t make it to this person – check training/orientation
  2. The individual understands what is wanted and chooses not to follow
               (see our Progressive Discipline blog)

If multiple people are not meeting the expectations the root cause may be that;

  1. What you communicated wasn’t clear or achievable (Vision)
  2. Your team didn’t communicate well to their team (Grapevine)
  3. People don’t agree with the message (Culture)

Back to the drawing board!

              (see our Leadership Training Seminars)

In today’s business environment it is easy to assume because you said it, people are doing it. Right?  Your the boss, you say it and they do it!

It is important to understand the difference between ad-hoc and planned communicating. Planned communicating doesn’t need to be scripted but there should be at minimum a list of discussion points to insure all have been covered.  How many times have you said “I thought I told you that”!…??  Avoid miscommunication by writing key points ahead of time and sharing those lists with the listener, they will let you know if a point is skipped. While this may seem rudimentary it WILL insure everything gets said.  Doing this at an organizational level results in increased efficiency and effectiveness which all has a significant effect on your businesses ability to generate revenue.

Carpe diem!


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