For any given project, one of the hardest things to do is manage the expectations of key stakeholders. Here are 5 questions you should be asking.
Agreeing on expectations sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s often not easy. To achieve alignment between the leader and team member, here are five questions you need to consider:
- Does the leader know what their expectations of the team member are?
- Has the leader clearly communicated their standards?
- Does the team member understand and accept the leader’s expectations?
- Has the leader gained the commitment of the team member to consistently meet those standards?
- Has the leader provided the right supportive environment so these expectation can be met?
1. The leader must know their own expectations
A leader must be crystal clear in their own mind about what they expect. What is the minimum acceptable standard of performance you will tolerate? What is unacceptable? What are the behaviours and actions that exceed expectations? Questions such as these seem simple enough, but it’s more difficult to answer these questions than it may first appear.
Imagine delegating the organisation of a retreat to a team member, for example. This team member is required to book the rooms, organise the venue, coordinate the speakers, compile the agenda, and so on. What are your expectations for these tasks? Where do you start?
The key for a project such as this, is to break it down into component parts; that is, agenda, accommodation, speakers, venue etc. The leader can then consider their expectations for each lump of activity. For the agenda, the standard expected could be to maximise audience participation and to foster collaboration, for example.
2. Clearly communicate expectations
Once the leader is clear about their expectation, the next challenge is to communicate this standard to the team member. One of the most effective ways is by illustrating it with a critical incident. This puts the expectation into context. Here’s what a leader might say to the organiser of the retreat: “I want this meeting to be totally participatory; I want everyone in the room to feel they have an opportunity to contribute. This would be achieved in my opinion if most of the discussion is originated from the audience, and not the speakers.”
3. Understand and accept the leader’s expectations
Once the expectation has been communicated, is it understood and accepted? It’s often mistakenly assumed that an outcome is clear and understood when it actually isn’t. To make sure, the leader needs to ask two questions. Firstly: “Are you clear on what I expect?” The leader needs to pause long enough for the other person to nod, grunt, or affirm with a yes.
The second question should be along the lines of: ”Is this a fair and reasonable expectation in your opinion?” Again, the leader looks for a signal of positive affirmation before ploughing on.
Getting back to the earlier example of organising the retreat, the person this has been delegated to, must feel comfortable with meeting these expectations. If, after all, they’re sitting there thinking the request is unattainable, it likely won’t be met. Taking the time to ask these questions significantly improves the prospects.
4. Gain commitment
Once the expectations have been clarified and accepted, the next step is to gain a sense of commitment. It’s again common for the leader to assume the other person is committed to achieving the outcome. And when the expectation hasn’t been met, the leader is surprised and disappointed.
If there’s no commitment, it’s very likely that the task will either not get done – or more likely – get done in a sub-standard way. Gaining commitment simply means asking for assurance. Asking “Can I get your commitment to achieve this the way we’ve discussed it?” is a simple, but deceptively powerful question to ask at this stage. Again, the leader wants either a nod, grunt, or preferably, a yes. Often, with this affirmation, the other person will follow through; they don’t want to let their boss down. Conversely, if the leader assumes they have the other person’s commitment, they can be sadly let down.
5. Right supportive environment
The supportive role of the leader isn’t always considered either. A “supportive environment” could mean the authority to make decisions, the right skills for the task, access to information and resources to help, a realistic time-frame, links to people that can help get the job done, or many other considerations. If the time-frame is unrealistic, for example, then it will impact on standards and possibly weaken the commitment to carry out the job. This – and other – support measures need discussing.
The leader can get agreement on expectations and add a significant degree of legitimacy by covering these five questions.
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Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and author.