The Value of Providing Expectations: Positive reinforcement proliferates

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In my previous article, I noted how setting team expectations can help a manager identify when and how to provide corrective feedback.

There is another value to providing expectations to your team:  It allows you and your team to provide reinforcing feedback, and more of it.  Reinforcing feedback, also known as positive feedback, is much easier to give and receive than corrective feedback.  The key is to reinforce the right thing!

That’s where the expectation-setting comes in.  If the team expectations have been set, then they can be reinforced.  On the flip side, if no expectations have been set, then what gets reinforced will be generally random.  Some of good behaviors get reinforced, and some of bad behaviors get reinforced.

So if you set team expectations, then you and your team are much more likely to reinforce the desired behaviors. As previously written on this blog, the manager should be spending a good chuck of time reinforcing positive behaviors.

In the example I used in the previous article, was the manager set the following general team expectation:

The team will foster an atmosphere of sharing ideas

In this example, let’s say the team actually conducts a meeting where the various team members support each others’ ideas, and allowed everyone to provide their input.  The manager observes this and agrees that this reflects the expectation of “fostering an atmosphere of sharing ideas.”

Now the manager needs to reinforce this!  The manager can reinforce this in a few different ways.

1. Feedback to the group at the end of the meeting

At the end of the meeting the manager can say:

“This meeting reflected what we are looking for in fostering an atmosphere of ideas.  I saw people on the team asking others for their ideas, and I saw that ideas, once offered, weren’t shot down and instead were praised for being offered.  This allowed more ideas to be shared.  Thanks for doing this, and I like seeing this.”

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The value of providing expectations: Performance feedback proliferates and becomes more artful

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I’ve written several articles lately about providing expectations to your team on how to perform.  These articles describe how to increase the artfulness of providing expectations or setting expectations for behavior.  For example, the expectations should:

– reflect team input

– be set earlier rather than later

– include standards of performance where documented

–provided general guardrails of behavior

– should attempt to tie into the larger strategy

I’ve also written articles about how providing performance feedback to your team as a key management skill.  Now let’s take a look at an example of how providing expectations can help you in providing performance feedback.

1.   Performance feedback you provide happens more naturally, immediately and specifically

If you have provided expectations for how the team works together, and the guardrails of behavior are established in some form, you now have a context and standard of performance to start any performance feedback discussion when you see the need for someone to change what they are doing.  Let’s take a look at a performance feedback example:

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The art of providing expectations: Tie the expectations to the larger strategy

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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 previous posts, I’ve discussed the following artful elements of providing expectations:

Getting team input

Establishing expectations early

Using existing performance criteria for specific tasks

Providing general guidelines for behavior

Today I’ll discuss how to tie in the act of providing expectations with the larger strategy of the team and organization.

Providing expectations is different from defining the larger strategy of a team.  The larger strategy of a team or group dictates more what the team is working on and the resources it devotes to working on it to create a result greater than the individual work items.  The strategy should indicate what it is the team is actually producing.  The expectations should be consistent with the strategy and be the next layer down that translates more closely to the behaviors you expect and the areas the team should be working on.

So the expectations should feed into the larger strategy of the team or group.  If you don’t have a strategy, perhaps it’s time to get one!  It’s kind of a big topic, but let’s try to tackle it!

Let’s take a look at some examples of expectations that feed into a team or org strategy:

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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”.

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

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The Manager by Designsm blog seeks to provide great people management tips and awesome team management tips.  An important skill that managers need to have is the act of providing expectations for how the team and individuals operate.  In my previous article, I discussed how it is necessary for a manager to provide expectations for the repeatable, established tasks. But this does not describe all of the tasks that many teams are expected to perform.

Many times teams, in addition to the repeatable work, are doing something for the first time, and must go through iterations to get it right and get the work done.  These are situations where the work does not have an established, repeatable rhythm, but is filled with problem-solving, new ideas and creative efforts.  So in addition to the repeatable tasks, let’s talk about providing expectations for forging forward into unknown territory, which increasingly describes many work teams!

Because something is new, this does not mean that a manager does not need to set expectations.  Instead, the manager must provide expectations on the level of how the team works together to achieve the goals set out for them.


So when I say “providing expectations,” I’m describing the act of establishing both the “what” the team on works on and “how” the team works together.  It is the act of setting the baseline understanding of what the team does and how it does it.  And once the repeating tasks are established and the criteria for quality are determined, these expectations can then be provided.

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

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The Manager by Design blog seeks to provide great people and team management tips.  An important skill that managers need to have is the act of providing expectations for how the team and individuals operate.  In a previous post, I provided examples of providing expectations to your team.  It today’s post, I start a series of tips on how to better improve how managers provide expectations to their employees.  I call it the art of providing expectations.

We’ll start with the basics:  If there is a specific, established performance standard for something your staff must do, then make this known. 

Here’s what I’m talking about.  Let’s say that there are basic items that your staff must do and to a standard of quality that your staff must perform on an ongoing basis.  You need to provide expectations for how these tasks are done and to what level of quality.  Of course this is done all the time in many organizations, but there are many orgs that newly formed, fast growing, or simply disorganized enough where this has yet to be done.  Let’s look at some examples of these:

In an IT department, it could be requirements gathering, and the document that is produced in the process.

In a strategy development group, the development process of the strategy (i.e., who needs to be discussed with and approval process), and the actual strategy document.

In a business development group, the core elements of a contract that must be performed and following the process for getting them processed. 

Other basic expectations of behavior could be the following:  When to show up for work (if this is important in your org), response time to inquiries from customers, when status updates are due, to whom, and in what format. 

So many things. . .  The common denominator for these “basic tasks” are that they are ongoing, repeatable, and proven that they can be performed by the average performer on your staff. 

1.      Identify what the basic things you expect anyone on your staff to do.

So think about the things on your staff that you expect them to do that are ongoing, repeatable, and proven to be able to be done.   Now, is this documented anywhere?  Or is there an implicit understanding that these things are performed?  If you haven’t made this clear to your staff that these things are done on an ongoing basis, now is the time to start.

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

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The Manager by Designsm blog discusses the art of providing feedback, such as making your feedback specific and immediate and attempting to describe the preferred behavior.

Now let’s take this to a new level.  When giving performance feedback to an employee, you are in the position to specifically articulate what you want the employee to do.  This is handy information, because it could be a clue that you never actually set this expectation in the first place.

Let’s say you are in charge of a team working on a significant systems delivery.  The team has been working on it for a couple of months without significant issue, and the Vice President comes into your office saying, “I don’t know what’s going on with this systems delivery project!”  OK, so this is a problem.  Something needs to be solved.  You determine that the VP wants a visibility to the project status, and you work out a format and timing for getting this info to the VP.  Nobody wanted this crisis to happen, but it did.

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Examples of using expectations to improve your performance feedback

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The Manager by Designsm blog writes about the art of providing performance feedback.  That’s because performance feedback is a fundamental skill needed for managers to perform their jobs as managers.

One important aspect of providing feedback is that it is based on some sort of standard, a bar that has been set, or a series of expectations of performance.  So let’s talk about it!

In my prior article, I offer providing expectations as an alternative to giving public feedback.  But there are more advantages to setting expectations than being perceived as a forward, clear thinking manager who knows what she wants and how to get there.

I suppose that’s reason enough, but there are more reasons to hone your skills at providing expectations!

Providing expectations also give you the ability to give performance feedback more effectively.

The formula is simple: If you’ve set a performance bar in advance, when you give feedback to your employee you can now measure against that expected performance.

What’s amazing is how infrequently this is performed by managers.  So I hereby set the performance expectations to managers:  Have you set performance expectations to your employees?  If so, great!  You are now ahead of the game.

Let’s look at examples of identifying expectations for performance prior to having to give feedback:

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Examples of providing expectations to your team

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I have written in the Manager by Design blog about the scourge of public feedback.  Public feedback is when managers try to solve performance problems by addressing their entire organization at once.  I make the case that doing this a) does not change the behavior of the one needing to change and b) could make worse the behavior of those who are already performing correctly. Public feedback is an example of a manager short cut and should be stopped.

So let’s look at — in a more positive manner — what a manager should focus on doing in a public setting: Setting expectations.

I would like to recommend to all of you managers out there to focus your announcements, all-team meetings and proclamations on the theme of setting expectations.  Doing so will help you down the course of leading, and the more you set expectations with your staff, the more likely they will actually do the things that you expect.   So let’s look at some of the things you can do to set expectations.

a) Start your presentations or announcements with “I’d like to provide you my expectations.”

Perhaps this is too simple of an idea to even document, but how often do you hear managers doing this?  Not enough in my estimation, so let’s increase this introductory statement on the part of managers.  By using the “I’d like to provide you my expectations” line, you are now forced to articulate what you do want.

In doing this, you can now embark on a project that allows you to identify the behaviors and values that you’d like to see on your team.  Let’s try a few!

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