The Importance of Setting Clear Expectations for Your Team

| August 31, 2016 | By
The Importance of Setting Clear Expectations for Your Team

We recently had an interesting experience here at Ignite Spot.

At a team-wide lunch meeting, we went around the table and had each employee share two things: what he believes the expectations are of him, and what his expectations are of his manager/subordinates.

The results were eye-opening, and I’ll bet you can guess why: in some instances, people’s perceptions of what was expected from them were vastly different from what their supervisor or subordinates actually expected from them.

We’re not alone; according to a worldwide survey by Gallup, as many as 50% of workers say they don’t really know what’s expected of them in their job. Sounds crazy, but it’s true!

One thing became clear: we needed a better system for setting clear expectations for all team members.

That’s the topic we’re delving into today: why expectations are so important in a team environment and how you can put them in place for your staff.

Why Set Expectations?


Setting expectations for your team can be uncomfortable, especially if you haven’t previously had a well-defined team structure in place. But just as the saying goes, “fail to plan; plan to fail.” Without clear expectations in place, you’re setting yourself up for inevitable issues down the road.

They keep employees focused

It’s all too easy to get sucked down the email rabbit hole, poking your nose into projects and problems that other team members already have covered.

Assigning specific responsibilities to specific employees keeps your team on task.

Let’s use a sales example to demonstrate. Say John has a monthly sales goal to meet. He’s likely pushing toward that goal all month long, but probably a lot heavier in the last few days of the month.

Setting expectations for sales reports every Friday can help John focus on the goal more evenly throughout the month, rather than just at the tail-end.

Gallup reports that employees with clear goals delineated from their managers are more engaged in the workplace. Engaged employees are happier, and happy employees stick around longer.

They mitigate frustration

Unclear expectations are one of the top sources of frustration for employees, especially if there’s change happening within the organization.

In a recent survey from employee assistance provider ComPsych, 31% of employees cited “unclear expectations from supervisors” as their number one work-related stressor; it was the top answer out of any.

And it goes both ways; managers feel the same frustration when their subordinates aren’t performing up to par—but it’s hard to achieve when “par” hasn’t been well-defined. Setting clear expectations for both managers and their team members helps eliminate stress on both parties.

They allow for constructive criticism and benchmarking

Ah, the dreaded employee review. Not too many things rank as highly on the list of nerve-wracking experiences for a person in their career.

You can eliminate whole lot of the anxiety from the process by setting periodic benchmarks and expectations, for instance every quarter.

Without expectations, emotions can come into play a little too heavily. If an employee is well-liked, it’s tougher to point out their poor performance. Periodic benchmarks make the process objective; either the goal was met or it wasn’t, and the consequences of that are already understood by everyone involved.

Setting Effective Expectations


Putting in place an expectations system for your team doesn’t have to be a truckload of new work; it could be something as simple as holding the kind of meeting I talked about having with my team earlier to get everyone on the same page.

If you start having these meetings on a monthly basis, setting and discussing expectations will become a regular part of your routine. Here are X more ways to implement them in your company:

  1. Define specific expectations

A good set of expectations is not abstract, like “make more sales.” It is clear and well-defined, like “increase sales by 10% by August 31.”

  1. Communicate with no room for confusion

Popping your head in an employee’s door on your way out to lunch is not an appropriate way to communicate expectations.

Better to put them in writing so there are no questions later on. An email or one-pager works well here.

  1. Set realistic goals

Of course as business owners we always want to see major forward progress, but setting goals that seem too out of reach can actually have a discouraging effect on employees.

Focus on small, achievable milestones, or break long-term goals into several short-term ones.  

  1. Review regularly, focus on wins

Expectations only work if there’s someone holding you accountable for them!

Make check-ins a regular part of your workplace schedule; this might take the form of a monthly all-team meeting, a 30 minute conference call at the start of every week, or smaller, department-specific meetings among managers and their immediate teams.

During these check-ins, don’t just focus on where employees are falling short. Emphasize wins and give praise accordingly. Psychologists and management experts have shown again and again that recognizing employees for their success leads to improved workplace behavior and performance.

Do you have an expectations system for your team? Leave us a comment and tell us what it looks like!

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