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Eight Ways to Set Better Expectations

In our third blog in the series-connected to EPIC Engagement, we are taking a look into management practice and one of the most common situations that we have found that actively encourages poor management practices.

In the course of your work as a manager, you will often need to explain various aspects of the role to your employees, to set the boundaries and to allow employees the opportunity to ask questions and to understand the standards for which they should achieve those expectations. In many cases, our team members may bring to this discussion a degree of understanding and experience and it is important to enter into a dialogue that will provide the manager level of reassurance for what an employee possesses for a role or a task.

Also, how about the importance of understanding the mindset of the individual before they even begin that task? Our employees offer a richness of experience and understanding that can help managers to see other ways – better ways and more often than not, the right way to go about certain things. This style of conversation certainly benefits all involved!

However, in a manager’s busy world, it is when we make the unfortunate assumption that such agenda-setting and big-picture positioning is not needed and instead make an ill-informed diagnosis on the individual’s suitability. Sometimes, without the manager knowing, there is actually little understanding of the expectations (and the potential consequences of not adhering to those expectations) and this is where trouble can follow! Have you been here before?

Have you ever wished that you’d just taken the opportunity to be clear on things with your employee? And what about their commitment and their confidence with the task in hand – are they ready? How do you know? Any evidence?

I recall a scenario very early on in my career when I joined a young, ambitious call centre shortly after I took a break from education. I was very excited and keen to work hard, learn and earn! I was greeted by my team leader and introduced to my ‘buddy’ who was extremely friendly and she helped introduce me to what the work entailed and enjoyed a good natter over a cup of tea at our desk.

This was short-lived as I was provided with a folder (it was massive) which was full of pertinent information, which I needed to familiarise myself with (eek!)… products, processes, people, partners, principles… there were many other P’s going on in there, but remained enthusiastic to understand, to learn from my buddy and to show I was capable. I listened intently as she answered calls and I made reference to my folder…feeling just a little overwhelmed.

Then it happened… it was like someone had screamed ‘all hands to the pump’ and there was a sudden shift of nervous energy and panic as calls began to queue on the statistics board – the damning measure of a lack of productivity it seemed! Various Team Leaders suddenly began to bark orders, demanding that headsets were put on, that backsides were on seats and that everyone was ‘available to take calls. The agents began to handle the calls – frantically ushered by Team Leaders to move the customer on and to get the next call…and the next call…and the next. It was loud and stressful for all agents on the phone. The sudden influx was caused by a mail drop that had encouraged customers to call…unbeknownst to everyone in the call centre.

The result was chaos – I was petrified of getting on the phone and answering the calls. Customers were angry, information was unclear, there was no answers to their questions and yet, Team Leaders preferred to continually demand that the calls were answered. I sat and pondered what I was to learn from those 2-hours of stress from my buddy. For me, all I could feel was anxious for when it was my turn!

Have you ever been exposed to such a situation? Were you readied by a coach, mentor or leader? Was there any support? What would you have done?

It is a common scenario that in business, everything may not run to plan or as smoothly as we would like. Indeed, the comfort zone that we all possess has to be tested regularly for us all to continue to grow and develop. But my experience had created an internal state of fear and was reinforced by anxiety and concern being demonstrated by those experienced in the job.

Working life doesn’t need to be like this and by setting better expectations and mentally preparing employees for all eventualities and the appropriate behaviours to use, we can influence a far better responses, decisions and minimise frustrations.

Having team members understand you is important not only for technical reasons, but also to ensure they feel assured and satisfied – your customers will benefit too! The ability to explain things clearly and effectively can help managers in their career, as well. Here are a few tips to help make your explanations understandable, useful and engaging…

1: Keep in mind others’ point of view

You’ve probably seen the famous illusion that looks like either a young woman or an elderly woman. Two people can look at that same picture, and they can have opposite views of what they’re seeing. Keep this idea in mind when explaining a concept or positioning the big picture. Something that might be perfectly understandable to you might be incomprehensible to someone else.

2: Provide time to listen to team members

It’s easy to become frustrated when someone is asking questions. However, try to resist response. A better attitude is to be happy that the other person is interested enough to ask questions – it’s part of their comprehension of the situation. To minimise confusion and misunderstanding, try to paraphrase or summarise a question before you answer it. This step is particularly important if you’re in a team setting, and you’ve just taken a question from someone in the team.

3: Avoid talking over people’s head

When you explain things to people, do you sometimes experiencing their eyes glazing over? Chances are it’s because you’re talking over their head…they don’t get what you’re saying. Symptoms of such behaviour include the use of jargon, acronyms or sometimes the info has not been ‘chunked’ appropriately. Remember, the people you’re talking to probably lack your specialised al knowledge, so you should use readily understandable terms in simple language.

4: Avoid the parent, child debate

Avoid the other extreme as well. Don’t insult people by assuming that they’re only as intelligent as a three-year-old. Make your explanations neither complicated or overly simple by gauging the employee’s knowledge and understanding and then position appropriately (expanded upon in the next point). Show them that you believe and trust in them doing a great job and allow them the autonomy to do just that.

5: Ask questions to determine people’s understanding

The people you’re talking to shouldn’t be the only ones asking questions. You should be asking questions as well, to make sure they understand. Your questions should probe and test understanding and explore areas which remain ambiguous or a concern. They can also help employees to think about their role and responsibilities in light of any major challenges, when their decision making will be put to the test or they may experience some degree of stress. Mentally preparing employees for potential barriers to performance is what conscientious managers do and, although it may not often feel like it for the employee, it demonstrates you care for them and their success.

6: Use analogies to make concepts clearer

An analogy involves explaining an unfamiliar concept in terms of a familiar one. For example, in drawing an analogy between a firewall and a bank clerk, you could say that people don’t just go directly into a bank and take money out. They go to the clerk and identify themselves; the clerk makes sure they have enough money; and then the clerk gives them the money. Similarly, a firewall ensures that people who want access to a system really are permitted to have that access. When choosing an example for an analogy, first figure out the general principle you’re trying to explain. Then, choose something from real life that illustrates that principle. Analogies and stories truly help to make principles stick in people’s memories.

7: Compare new concepts to familiar ones

Another illustrative technique is to use a familiar or existing concepts as a comparison. For example, if you’re explaining a new release of a phone, the comparison is easy. Simply discuss the additional capabilities it has over the previous one or how key features are different. If we were discussing changes to an established process, we might decide to explain what is the same and then to position the amendments and to keep this succinct so as not to overwhelm.

8: Seek clarity that it makes sense

Once you’ve finished explaining your point or answering a question, ask a final question yourself. Make sure the people who heard your explanation truly did understand it. This is about dialogue – not a monologue. Your employees must be engaged in the discussion, in the meaning and that that meaning makes sense… including the consequences and bigger picture of what could happen should we not operate to those expectations.

The secret to the success of management is to hire good people, trust them to do their jobs, and bring out the best in them, not the stress in them. Good people need little to no management. They need support, clarity and encouragement. What have you done to set your team members up for success?

EPIC Engagement is a solution for driving employee engagement through better equipped management practices. Our innovative solution should be considered as a comprehensive development programme, diagnostic and measurement aid for one of the most important business metrics to your organisation’s performance and productivity. The EPIC Engagement approach focuses on the two biggest catalysts to employee engagement – how employees feel about their work and the capability and influence of their manager. Through this programme, we will measure your manager’s current capabilities for delivering the kind of experience that will inspire their people to perform. Once they have mastered certain core aspects of management and leadership, we can continue to measure their ability to inspire, motivate and engage their people in the core elements of Expectations, Progress, Inspiration and Collaboration. Speak with Emerge today at info@emergeuk.com for a free and non-obligatory discussion around the EPIC Engagement programme.

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