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Posted February 2, 2012 by johnspence

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During the past several months I have delivered numerous workshops and speeches for clients who were all struggling with the same basic issue: Lack of Clear Expectations. Regardless of the size of the company or the industry in which they competed, I’ve noticed a pattern of three critical areas where failure to set clear expectations has had a significant negative impact on the organization.

Unclear Performance Expectations: When the leaders of a company do not set very clear, measurable and specific standards of performance it sets everyone up for a fall. Here is a fundamental leadership maxim: Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity!

If employees do not fully understand exactly what they are supposed to be doing, it is impossible to hold them accountable for poor performance. So the key to success here is ensuring that the expectations for performance are measurable – quantifiable – specific – binary. Why is this so important? Because highly unambiguous expectations allow you to be rigorous in holding people fully accountable, without being ruthless. Binary goals are either achieved or they are not; there is no in-between, no opinion, and no argument. This is so vital because it allows you to remove emotions from the situation by saying to an employee, “You are OK – but your performance on this task was not.” Clear performance expectations lead to better results, higher levels of accountability and a more focused and engaged workforce.

Unclear Leadership Expectations: Another area that causes dysfunction in an organization is when the employees do not clearly know what to expect from their leaders. If the leader is going to take the time to set out specific expectations for the employee’s performance, it is only right and fair that they should let the employees know exactly what to expect from them as well. This means sharing your leadership values, your vision for your team, how you will reward people when they exceed expectations, why you would terminate someone – so that everyone who works with you knows clearly where they stand and what they can expect from you as their leader. By the way, VERY few leaders do this – they just assume that their people know and understand these points. I can tell you from experience… they do not!

Unclear Customer Expectations: The last, and most costly, area where lack of clear expectations can cause serious trouble in a company is when you fail to set extremely clear expectations for what you will deliver to your customer. I am constantly amazed by the number of businesses who upset and literally chase-off customers because they don’t specifically communicate what the customer should expect. They say, “We’ll get back to you right away,” which to the customer might means in 20 minutes or less – but to the business it means within 2 hours. So when they call back an hour and a half later – the company thinks they are doing a great job (they beat their normal response time by 30 minutes!!) and the customer is seriously unhappy because they feel that the call was an hour and ten minutes late! This happens over and over again in a thousand tiny ways that all serve to drive customers away from your business. The goal is Under-Promise and Over-Deliver (UPOD) NOT Over-Promise and Under-Deliver (OPUD).

If you are a leader in your organization, regardless of what level you lead at, it is essential that you take a moment to make sure that you have done a superb job in establishing and communication very clear and specific expectations in all three of these critical areas.

Hope you found that helpful – I look forward to your comments – John

John Spence is the author of “Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action.” He is an award-wining professional speaker and corporate trainer, and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Business Thought Leaders in America and also as one of the most admired Small Business Experts in the nation.

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