How to Set Clear Expectations to Breed Growth

Q1 is officially in the rearview mirror. Take a moment to reflect. Did anything catch you off guard? It's a question worth asking because, let's face it, surprises in business aren’t pleasant and, in most cases, preventable.

And it starts with you, the leader. Have you clearly defined goals? Have you held you and your team accountable to those goals? Have you had tough conversations when those goals weren’t met? What part did you play?

Why Communication is Important

One of my clients has two kids. Her goal as a mother is to have her children grow up happy and healthy and to be thoughtful contributors to society–they can have careers they love while making enough to support themselves.

By having these goals, she’s able to set clear expectations. When her children ask for things, she responds with, “How does that help you stay healthy?” “It will cost over $1k per ticket to take you to that Taylor Swift concert, plus flights and hotels. Is that a good use of our money?” Does this make her popular? No. But short-term pain to ensure her kids grow up to be well-established adults. She layers these goals with guidance from her pediatrician: “Children need two things—familiarity and forecasting.”

Familiarity is the routine and schedule. Every day, they can expect important events, like eating and sleeping, to happen at the same time and in the same place, and certain processes trigger those events, like taking a bath, brushing their teeth, PJs, story, and bed. Children, like employees, need reliability, dependability, and stability.

As the leader of our household or business, we must expect resistance and possible non-compliance. We need to be OK with being unpopular with our kids and our employees in the short term.

Forecasting is communicating change. When the routine (expectations) changes or is disrupted, letting children know, and even, in some cases, acting it out and walking them through it, allows them to be prepared for when it happens.

Employees need the same. They need you to clearly define what you expect from them day in and day out. Then, when the expectations need to change, communicate it often like a drum beat and either adapt or create processes to ensure the expectations are worked towards and ultimately met. Trust, but verify.

Change is hard not just for children but even for adults. If you think change is hard, see Lisa Lahey’s book Immunity to Change. The more we communicate what the change is, why it’s important, and hold our team accountable through it, the fewer mistakes and surprises we’ll encounter, giving us momentum to growth versus detours or even having to put on the breaks.

As entrepreneurs, holding others accountable is not generally our strong suit. We can barely hold ourselves accountable whether alone employees. Communicating clear goals and expectations makes it significantly easier.

Setting Expectations Internally and Externally

  • Define Clear Goals: Outline what success looks like for the quarter and identify key obstacles.
  • Create Psychological Safety: When everyone knows what's expected of them, they feel empowered to speak up and contribute.
  • Communicate Weekly: Consistent communication is key. Keep expectations top of mind by reinforcing them regularly.
  • Listen: Encourage questions and feedback. Actively listen to your team's concerns and ideas.
  • Document Everything: Keep track of expectations and agreements in writing to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Seek Feedback: Schedule regular check-ins to review progress and adjust expectations as needed.

Expectations Are a Two Way Street

Remember, setting expectations isn't about laying down the law—it's about fostering a mutual understanding. Actively listen to your team, encourage feedback, and foster transparency in your communication. Together, you'll create a culture of trust and accountability.

Use the Right Tools

How you communicate is just as important as what you say. Choose your tools wisely. Face-to-face meetings are essential for setting expectations, but project management tools and messaging platforms can help reinforce them and keep everyone on track.

Ready to Take On Q2?

As we dive into the next quarter, let's make clear expectations our guiding light. By creating familiarity in our processes and forecasting changes effectively, we'll reduce friction and set ourselves up for success.

From Suck to Success

In From Suck to Success, Todd uses his own experience in professional purgatory to propel your business upward by embracing Massive Curiosity coupled with Massive Accountability.

We care about your data. Read our privacy policy.

Screenshot of From Suck to Success Book Cover

Latest From the Blog

Read Todd's latest tips on building connection through psychological safety.