Explicit Content

13 Feb

“You mentioned clear expectations.

What do you do when clear expectations haven’t been set and that gut feel says that implicit expectations haven’t been met?”

When I relayed your question to Jen, she sais something along the lines of: “That’s what my job is like on a daily basis! I usually have no idea what is expected of me. How am I supposed to meet expectations at all if I don’t even know what they are!”

I had to chuckle a little bit, because (implicitly) I knew that you were coming at the issue from the other side. In a way this is good news, because it illustrates that it’s not only leaders who struggle with conveying expectations to their followers, but followers are equally frustrated when expectations are unclear. There have been several times in my life where I thought I was doing a good job. And maybe I was. But I was doing the wrong job.


So how do we find clarity?


When implicit expectations aren’t being met, it could be time to make them explicit by rewriting the handbook. This may be going overboard in some cases, and having too many rules can quickly kill creativity and flexibility. At my work, we have a very clear list of standards of service that we are expected to meet. However, on top of knowing the rules, our managers expect us to know when to bend (and sometimes break) them for the good of the guest/team.

I suppose it really depends on the severity of the transgression. For example: The handbook states that when I clock into work, I do so in my designated uniform. If I were to show up to work with my pants on backwards, I sincerely doubt management would re-write the book to address pant-orientation. For more serious (usually ethical) violations of implicit expectations, I have seen the offending party subject to serious disciplinary measures up to termination. Shortly after this happens, we are all asked to sign updated versions of our employment agreement. And the implicit it made explicit.

To confront chaos and restore order, there are three directions of communication. I’ll call them “top down”, “bottom up”, and “lateral”.

Yearly or quarterly reviews are great for top down communication. My company recently switched the scoring on our yearly reviews to a 5 tier system. 1: does not meet expectations, 2: approaches expectations, 3: meets expectations, 4:exceeds expectations, 5: nobody gets a 5. I forget what 5 really is, but lets just say “superhuman”. Before my review is posted on my record my manager goes over it with me and we discuss each expectation. Another form of top down communication is the “see me in my office” approach. This is for when an individual, or a few individuals, are causing the problem. It’s not always best to single people out though.

Department meetings are a good mix of top down and bottom up communication. Managers can inform the entire team of where expectations are not being met, and employees have the opportunity to explain why that is the case. Here it is almost always a bad idea to single people out, usually everyone knows who they are already. Manager: “We expect everyone to deliver drinks to the table using trays, this expectation is not being met.” Employee: “Yes we agree, however; there are five of us on at a time, and we only have four trays.” In this case, it is the manager who missed the implicit expectation of the staff to supply proper tools to do their job well. Most of our meetings end with an open floor, where staff can raise concerns. Meeting minutes are taken and emailed out to staff along with a list of resolutions to problems agreed on by the team.

Lateral communication: while I have zero authority over my peers at work, communication of expectations is still extremely important. A while back, a simple communication breakdown became toxic. It split us apart and nearly destroyed our once very close knit team. Eventually our manager called a meeting. When we showed up, he told us that we were all adults and could figure it out on our own. And we did. When we realized that all the resentment and hostility was the result of a miscommunication, we immediately pledged to over-communicate in the future. The very next day we started using a handover log book. In it we communicate things like “I didn’t get X done because of Y, we should have product in tomorrow, please make sure it gets done.” If you are aware that you have not met expectations, it’s not a bad idea to own up to it. That way people will know that you are at least aware of your mistakes.

All three of these forms of communication are designed to express expectations in a very clear way. And since they are on record, they can be referred to at a later time.

It’s important to communicate expectations in a respectful way. Be sure that you are heard and understood, but more importantly, be sure that you hear and understand the other.

Again. Over-communicate. Stating that an expectation isn’t being met implies that it is expected to be met in the future. I recommend setting a follow-up date to check for the desired improvements. Agree on metrics and measure periodically. What gets measured gets managed.



As a leader, how do you deal with pushback without resorting to the “because I said so and I’m the boss of you” card? What situations, if any, call for this? Is it effective? Do you recommend different protocols between the roles of boss, husband and father?

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