One weekend, three brothers were building a new deck at one of the brother’s homes. (One of the three brothers is co-author of this column.) Running out of weekend to finish the project, tensions started to build as reality began to set in. Then, it started to rain, slowing progress even more. (We are not making this up!) The brother with the least construction experience was working as fast as he could placing joists to support the deck. Unfortunately, he was not performing the task in the manner and to the satisfaction of the most experienced brother, who eventually exploded, “Come on, can’t you read my mind?!”
No, the inexperienced brother being called out could not read minds. And, neither can your employees. When it comes to your expectations of them, they know what you want only when you have clearly communicated with them. Are expectations important? We have a friend who likes to say “discontent is relative to expectations.” If you and your employees are not on the same page with respect to expectations, trouble is brewing. At the same time, we find many feed and grain managers, for a variety of reasons, don’t take the time or go to the trouble of framing a set of meaningful expectations for employees. We will take a look at this important component of leadership and management in this month’s column.
Importance of expectations
If asked, “what do you expect from your employees,” how would you answer? If some someone asked your employees, “what does your supervisor expect of you?” How would they answer? These are useful questions to think a bit about. If clear and mutually agreed to expectations don’t pop into your mind immediately, you are not alone. Robert Schaffer, in his September 2010 Harvard Business Review article titled “Four Mistakes Leaders Keep Making” labeled “failure to set proper expectations” as behavior trap No. 1 on his list.
Why do managers fail to set clear expectations? Schaffer argues one reason is anxiety: “Being clear requires considerable thought and is much more difficult than issuing general statements such as ‘We need to speed up payments, so get off your … .’ Managers may worry if they set specific targets their people can’t achieve they too will look like failures. They may fear being viewed as unreasonable ogres …” Other reasons may include the assumption that “my employees know the job; they know what is expected. I don’t need to tell them.” Or managers may simply be running hard enough that they don’t make time to communicate expectations, even though they believe it is important. Finally, there is the “I walked five miles to school uphill both ways” argument — no one ever provided me with clear expectations. Why do I need to provide them to my employees?
Regardless of the reason, we agree with Schaffer and see a lack of clear expectations as a drag on productivity, the source of much supervisor-employee conflict, and a potential cause for retention problems in a feed and grain firm.
Expectations as ground rules
For some of your employees, especially those in jobs with well-defined responsibilities, such as a truck driver or feed mill hand, you may well capture most expectations in an employee manual or company policy book. Here, you likely lay out some minimum expectations on the importance of coming to work on time, staying clear of drug and alcohol use, following all safety protocols, and so on. You may also cover something like company values, how you want customers treated, how you want other employees treated, etc. These kinds of expectations become ground rules for your organization.