The most important thing you can do as a leader is to establish expectations for your employees. After all, if you don't show your employees what success looks like, they may never figure out what it takes to succeed within your organization and team.

Follow these six steps to set crystal-clear expectations for your staff:

Make them clear for yourself

It is impossible to build mutually clear expectations with others if you haven't defined your expectations. If you can’t clearly articulate them verbally or on paper, you aren’t ready to share them with employees. “I’ll know it when I see it” isn’t a clear expectation.

Decide where you need to set expectations

Think about where the gaps exist on your team. Is the work output less than ideal? Do you communicate effectively? What are the expectations imposed by the organizational culture? Figure out where you are falling short, and define exactly what needs to change.

Understand why

Providing others with the context and justification for expectations will increase employees' accountability for meeting those expectations. Help people understand the bigger picture and you will gain their support.

Meet with employees to discuss the new standards

Sit down with employees, either individually or as a group given the circumstances, to discuss your expectations. Remember, completing the first three steps is critical before you meet with employees. If you fail to follow the process, you likely won't be able to express your expectations clearly and thoroughly. To encourage a productive two-way conversation, provide employees with an agenda and list of goals for the meeting. Then, ask them to come prepared to offer their own feedback.

Write your expectations down

We aren’t talking a legal document here. However, when you write down your goals and expectations, you gain more clarity and document your plan of action. That way there will be no confusion later about the terms to which you and the employees agreed.

Gain agreement and commitment

Once you have documented your expectations, both you and your employees should read them. Make sure everyone is working with the same understanding and commitment to the new expectations. We recommend that you and employees sign off on the document should you need to revisit the issue later.

The lack of clearly understood expectations is the source of much strife in relationships, the cause of most conflicts, and the beginning of poor organizational performance. As leaders, we must strive to build clear expectations throughout our organizations, and it must start with us.

Want more? Watch this video "Getting Clear Expectations" with Kevin Eikenberry!

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Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group ( He has spent nearly 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more.
Twice he has been named by as one of the top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and has been included in many other similar lists.

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