Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success


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Great Expectations and How To Set Them

One of the most important responsibilities that anyone with a management or leadership position has is to ensure that work gets delivered to the right level of quality in a timely manner. Key to this is being able to set expectations.

Yet, setting expectations is another one of those business skills (see also running meetings, communicating to different personalities and managing upwards) that people aren’t taught how to do. Instead, assumptions are made and when expectations aren’t met, fingers are pointed.

Whenever I run my Project Leadership Academy program (more details on that here), it is the most requested module after communication as most people simply don’t know how to do it well.

Being able to set expectations well is important for the following reasons:

  • It ensures that the person setting the work and the person doing it agree on what is required and by when

  • It provides the person doing the work with the opportunity to ask questions and/or to challenge the requirements

  • It provides the person doing the work with the opportunity to clarify the priority of the work

  • It increases empathy between both parties

  • It strengthens relationships

  • It provides confidence to the manager that the responsible person knows exactly what to do, the level of quality that’s expected and the date for delivery

  • It increases the chance of on-time delivery

  • It reduces the need for micro-management

  • It provides the foundation for performance management.

Ultimately, it ensures that everyone in a team knows what they have to do and we all want that certainty in our working lives. To get to the end of something, knowing that we’ve met expectations and taking confidence (and in some instances praise) for having done so, is a great feeling.

Setting expectations is a four-step process, which I like to call ACDC (of course I do!):

Articulate – you can’t set expectation by thinking aloud. You have to take the time to be able to clearly articulate TO YOURSELF what you’re asking someone else to do. 

Communicate – once you have it straight in your own head, you have to be able to communicate it (face-to-face, never by email) to the other person, making sure that you change the style that suits the way the other person likes to receive information.

Discuss – once it’s out of your mouth and into their head, then it’s time to talk about it to remove any potential for confusion or uncertainty. What barriers exist to getting it done? Do they have the time and tools they need? Is there anything you’re not aware of that may get in the way?

Confirm – Once you’ve talked it through, then you reconfirm what’s been discussed (confirming further by email if necessary) in order that the other person can get on and do the work, allowing you to be able to check in on progress as required.

In order for someone to successfully meet expectations then they have to be set in the correct way first. What are you doing to set expectations today? 

Being able to set expectations is just one of the chapters that I cover in my new book, The Project Book, which is available now! Pre-order the book and receive a years’ access to my online program The EQ Room, for free – pre-orders close this Friday May 24th and books will be shipped soon after.