Expectation management – or rather a gulf in understanding

  • by Rob Hart
  • 16 Oct, 2017

The Thriving Manager - Article #1

The Thriving Manager - Manage and Thrive Training blog series
In our new blog series “The Thriving Manager” we look at common issues that we encounter – either ourselves, or based on discussions with other people. Everyone’s situation is unique, so give yourself a little time to reflect on the content, and apply it to your situation. You may need to apply particular skills or alternatively grasp the spirit and tailor it to your own needs. Either way, find a ‘best fit’ solution, run with it, monitor it, and adapt as necessary.

While sharing experiences recently, we discussed an interesting, but not uncommon, problem:  Expectation management – or rather a gulf in understanding.

The boss of a business discussed the culture and ethic in his firm. Staff were permitted a good degree of flexibility so they could strive for a better work-life balance. This included flexible working times within reason, the acceptance of home working, allowing staff a little slack when trying to shoehorn in medical appointments, decent gifts at Christmas, a lavish Christmas party. The reciprocation expected was that staff would work hard and pitch in when needed and be willing to work a bit longer when deadlines or emergencies loomed; they would take on extra responsibility if the situation called for it; they would make up time for those doctors’ appointments to at least meet the minimum expected hours. Everyone else in the room thought this sounded great and entirely reasonable. A crack appeared though – while some employees were reciprocating, some employees weren’t. This was pretty exacerbating for the boss.
how to improve management of expectations
By exploring the circumstances, it became apparent that while this approach made sense in principle, at least some staff may not have been aware of the flexibility that was being afforded to them, and the reciprocal spirit that was hoped for. It was likely that some employees expected a nice flexible attitude and generosity. But the notion of pitching in and displaying a ‘can do’ attitude didn’t really exist as a culture among some of the staff in that business. There will be people who take this approach through personal attributes and background. There will be others who take the mick and play the game to their own advantage. Most probably float somewhere in between, dependent on the attitude of leaders and managers in their team.
In this case in point, there was a gulf in the expectations. And it became apparent that the simple cause of this may have been a lack of clearly articulated expectation in this respect. In a recent study titled “Employee Outlook – Autumn 2016”, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) asked employees the following question: “How well or poorly does your line manager make clear what is expected of me?”. The results were as follows:
how well do managers communicate to their staff
While the study found that 64% thought it was done well to some degree (and only 15% suggested poor communication), the statistical answer alone cannot clarify whether managers higher up the food chain did a better job of articulating the expectation such that understanding was greater, or whether a given employee’s interpretation of “What is expected” is correct. In the former case, a well-articulated and sound corporate vision can help (not to mention mission, objectives, core purpose, and so on). Job specifications also need to be appropriate. In the latter case, feedback may be required to confirm that any messages trickling down are consistent and correct. It would be useful in these circumstances to check that the message is not blighted by Chinese whispers, unconscious bias or deliberate manipulation. If problems are evident then a procedural and cultural update may be advisable.
Good leaders and managers generally embody the notions of ‘can do’ and making things happen, and they appreciate the aspiration of flexibility and ‘give and take’. The assumption that everyone else ticks in the same way is flawed, regardless of how people perform in interviews and during probation periods. It simply can’t be taken for granted.
Ideally, we would build this culture and understanding from day one of the organisation, enshrining this expectation in procedures as well as the more intangible culture. But businesses grow and change, and in unpredictable and sometimes wild ways. And people change. It is easy to see how these ideals may become diluted or poisoned.
In simple terms, the solution is to align expectations and to manage those expectations. This may need a degree of sympathetic change management. Think through where you are now, where you want to be, and what gaps need to be bridged. What form will these bridges take? How could they be implemented? How can you safely get everyone else across the chasm?
how to improve staff performance
It may make sense to run this activity as a project. In which case, the deliverable project outcome may be a realignment of expectations, measured by a notable improvement in productivity and efficiency, without unduly affecting morale, staff churn and confidence. Draw on both process and interpersonal skills. Manage the organisation, lead the people.
At the end of the day, it’s a case of you effectively communicating with your team and driving behaviours, in a way that achieves buy-in, cooperation and goodwill - without shattering your prospects for the future.
Does this sound a bit daunting? Need a bit of support? Book a Manage and Thrive Training course now if you can, or ask us to come to you for a team training course, or for one-to-one development support. We can help you with the following example topics, or we can tailor courses to your requirements:
  • Project management
  • Project Risk management
  • Planning, strategy and change management
  • Communications skills
  • How to coach team members
  • Team management
  • Leadership development
Get in touch now to engage your business support.


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We've also posted this article to LinkedIn, if you prefer to read it there:   https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/expectation-management-rather-gulf-understanding-rob-hart/

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