The art of providing expectations: Describe the general guidelines of behavior

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Providing expectations for how the team operates is an important skill for any manager or leader.  It doesn’t matter what level of manager you are, this is an important early step to establishing yourself as a manager and leader, and to set the right tone that reflects your values as a manager and your team’s values for how it executes its duties.

In my previous post, I describe two aspects of providing expectations: Get team input and provide expectations early rather than reactively.  In today’s post, I’ll discuss another aspect of providing expectations:  Set guidelines – the more you can do this, the more artful the expectation providing.

In discussing the performance management part of being a manager, I advocate for specific and immediate feedback, using behavior-based language. That’s for providing feedback.  Providing feedback comes after providing expectations.

When providing expectations, you are preemptively identifying the course you want the team to go on.  However, you can’t anticipate all events, all behaviors, and all specifics.  (If you can predict specifics, then check out this article on letting performance criteria be known.)  Outside of the repeating tasks, in the expectation-providing arena, this is your chance to identify more broadly what the team should focus on and how it should provide its focus.  These should be considered guidelines or even “guardrails”.

Let’s look at a few examples of expectations that can be considered guidelines:

— This team will foster an atmosphere of sharing ideas

— As part of idea-sharing, the discussion needs to test whether the ideas are part of our strategy

–Once a decision is made, the team needs to get on board to that decision

–There will be a time for planning and a time for execution

–We intend to use project management methodology X

In these examples, you can see that they are fairly general, and do require interpretation.  This is important, since as a leader you are not capable of anticipating all incidents, articulating all procedures, creating all timelines and arbitrating all disagreements.  The idea is that these guidelines or “guardrails” or general principles will allow for the team to have a framework to discuss areas of disagreement and determine a course of action that does not necessarily involve escalating everything for review or approval.  This should save a lot of work.

It won’t eliminate all work.  You still have to manage the team.  The questions that should come to you are the unanticipated ones that the guardrails do not have guidance for.  See what these questions and issue are, and determine if amending the general guardrails is in order.

The first time you do this, you may have too general of guardrails, and you can then try again with slightly more specific.

The important aspect is that the more you do this, the better you’ll be at it.  You’ll learn the guidelines that effectively create the behaviors, decisions and actions the create the performance you’re looking for on the team.

Additionally, as another element of the art of providing feedback is getting team input, the team should begin to suggest new guidelines and modifications to the existing ones.  An important element is that the team thinks in terms of these guidelines as part of performing these jobs, and having them reduces ambiguity.  This transitions the team from dealing with ambiguity to reducing ambiguity.  And when new ambiguity arises, there is at least some framework to work within.

As a manager, do you regularly set guidelines or guardrails for behavior?  On the teams you’ve been on, how well have these been established?

Related articles:

Examples of providing expectations to your team

Examples of using expectations to improve your performance feedback

Performance feedback is a means to improve your expectation-providing skills

The art of providing expectations: If there are established performance criteria, then make them known!

The art of providing expectations: Get input and the earlier the better

If you’re the manager, it’s your job not to act surprised

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


3 Responses to “The art of providing expectations: Describe the general guidelines of behavior”
  1. Walter, thanks for all your thoughtful and insightful posts. I ALWAYS find nuggets of info to apply to my own situation, as well as my clients’ situations.


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