Setting Employee Expectations in the Workplace

One of the most fundamental things you can do to drive employee engagement is to set clear goals and expectations. Not only does it create clarity for the whole team, it develops a culture of accountability and ensures everyone is on the same page. To do this effectively, it’s important to remember that there are two main aspects of each person’s job.

  1. “What they do”
  2. “How they do it”

“What” people do at work consists of the metrics, or hard numbers of the job. For example, daily tasks that must be performed or sales targets that must be reached. “How” employees do their work addresses their behavior, or the way they engage with customers or other employees.

What are the best practices for setting employee expectations?

Explaining “What they do” can be achieved using the SMART method. As one of the most tried and true methodologies for setting goals in the workplace, SMART is an acronym for the five components to include during the goal setting process:

Specific – Be specific when talking about deliverables, or the outcome you’re looking for
Measurable – Determine how progress or success is measured when goals are reached
Achievable – Ensure goals are realistic and attainable
Relevant – Explain the reasoning or relevance of why goals should be achieved
Time-bound – Define a clear deadline or timeline for everyone to work with

As you go through the SMART goal setting process, it’s vital to first establish the Specific outcomes, how you’ll Measure the success, and the Timeline of the project before going any further. With these three components in place, you can then easily establish how Achievable the goals are and explain the Relevance of why these goals should be met without getting side-tracked.

Setting employee expectations from a behavioral perspective

When addressing the other side of the equation, you must look at “How” people do their work, the behavioral aspect. Setting behavioral expectations is a lot more challenging, because it’s so much more subjective in nature. Different descriptors can mean different things to different people, for example:

  • “Be a team player”
  • “Go above and beyond”
  • “Be professional”
  • “Put the customer first”

All of these phrases can be interpreted in a variety of ways, so it’s important to help your employees understand what that behavior looks like specifically in their role at work.

If you want your employee to “Be a team player,” you must explain exactly how this can be achieved with very specific examples of what that characteristic looks like. For example, this could mean helping their colleagues reach sales targets or cleaning up together at the end of the day.

Things to know when setting employee expectations

At the end of the day, it’s your fundamental role as a leader to set clear goals and expectations for your employees. To do this effectively, you have to know how to set goals around both sides of the job, “What they do,” and “How they do it.” Remember to use the SMART methodology when determining Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based goals. And when it comes to setting behavioral expectations, use very specific examples of what that behavior looks like in your employee’s job.

To learn more about setting goals and expectations within your own organisation, get in touch today with Carolina Training & Assessments.



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