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Managing Expectations At Work: Its Importance & How To Do It

Andrew Langat
October 29, 2022
A group of executive sitting around a round table discussing about managing expectations at work
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Managing expectations is an important skill to have in a workplace. It minimizes the chances of disappointments, frustrations, and miscommunication with your colleagues or employer.

It is normal to have expectations; in fact, you need to have expectations at your workplace - it is an integral part of a healthy work environment. When managers, supervisors, and colleagues set expectations at work, it boosts morale, enhances productivity, and makes everyone accountable.

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What are Expectations in General?

Expectations are beliefs or assumptions that something will happen in our personal or professional lives. This belief, often powerful, shapes our determination and motivation to engage in an activity.

In a workplace, expectations can broadly be divided into two categories. We shall define each in how it applies in the workplace.

  • Realistic Expectations: These are achievable expectations at work. For example, expectations that you will be paid regularly, a safe and healthy working environment, new employee orientation programs, regular communication from management, etc.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: setting expectations that are not realistic. Unrealistic expectations often end in disappointment. For example, expect that your work colleagues will love you back and that management will reward you for working hard.

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What are Workplace Expectations?

These are expectations employees and employers have regarding workplace outcomes. As defined above, these expectations can either be realistic or unrealistic. Setting expectations at work is one of the vital skills for achieving success, and appreciation of the reality of what we always hope for may not actualize.

Managing expectations at work is often a team effort, as expectations are not isolated events. For example, if you work in the sales department, you expect every team member to work diligently towards realizing the target.

Two executives discussing about managing expectations at work

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How to Manage Expectations at Work

Managing expectations at work involve understanding company culture and how best to create healthy boundaries that guide your association with your colleagues, leadership, and management.

It should be viewed as part of your strategic planning toward success in delegated tasks and ensuring that you confidently approach the future.

To manage expectations at work, do the following:

  • State Clear Expectations: New employee expectations at work are pretty common. What is often not communicated is an employee's expectations of the employer. Offering an honest expectation to your employer will set the stage for future feedback and accountability.
  • For example, clearly state that you expect a salary increment after two years or that if you drive revenue growth, you will be eligible for a given cut. This can be done by speaking with the human resource department or your line managers.
  • Get Training: Managing expectations at work is a great skill for managers or employees. Getting the right training, such as Executive coaching for leadership and management positions to deliver effectively.
  • Understand the Full Range of Outcomes: Workplace outcomes need not be in black and white. When the outcome is limited to either success or failure, it can lead to dissatisfaction. In every outcome, state the possible best and worst outcomes. For example, if management had assigned a goal of increasing sales by $100,000, and you and your team realize $80,000, can this be viewed as a failure?
  • Assess your Skillset and Competencies: To succeed in a given task, you must assess your skillset. Ask yourself, where do I perform the best? Where do I need assistance from my team?
  • Understand the Full Scope of Assigned Tasks: When a task is assigned, take time and understand what is required of you and the exact deadline. This will help you in ranking in the order of importance and assign a specific time when the assignment needs completion.
  • For example, it makes sense to deliver on the most urgent tasks rather than item number 20 on your list. When in doubt, communicate with your supervisors or fellow employees about when you think the assigned tasks can be completed.
  • Learn How to Manage Up: You strengthen your relationship and trust with your manager by managing up. By Better understanding your boss, you, by extension, learn to manage their expectations.
  • For example, if you learn that your boss detests Gossiping, then refrain.
  • Learn to Say NO: For many, saying NO to a manager, supervisor, or colleague can appear rude. However, it is not a crime to do so. It is a great way to manage expectations at work as you will only agree to requests you can deliver effectively and on time.
  • Plan Ahead: Planning ahead makes it easy to manage expectations. This will make you proactive, give you time to strategize, allocate time, and ensure that project milestones are met from the most to the least important. Moreover, you can form a scenario analysis on what are the clear expectations.
  • Ask Questions When Doubt: When unsure of what is expected of you, ask. This will enable you to meet expectations on delegated responsibilities and eliminate unrealistic expectations from your supervisors or higher-ups.
  • Set Realistic Goals: When you manage expectations, you can set realistic goals based on your team's ability and skills. This creates confidence in a delegated project.
  • Communicate Regularly: In the course of assigned tasks, make regular communication with all stakeholders a priority. Even when all milestones are being hit on time, make it a habit to communicate what is expected in the next phase, what can be improved, etc. Never assume that silence means that everything is working out fine.

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Importance of Managing Expectations at Work

Managing expectations at work ensure that employee expectations align with management expectations. Employees fully understand their expectations as individual contributors or when working in teams. This is two-way traffic; thus, employees and management need to have this vital skill for a positive outcome. When well managed, it leads to a better relationship as rules are clearly defined, constructive feedback is offered, and everyone becomes accountable.

In short, when you manage expectations at work, you are better placed to see the bigger picture and set clear expectations. You will know the difference between realistic and unrealistic expectations and how to approach each. Moreover, you will be able to:

  • Set Healthy Professional Boundaries: When boundaries are blurred, it can lead to the abuse of personal space and affect team cohesion. To set clear boundaries, you must define your mental, physical, time, and emotional boundaries.
  • The best way of setting boundaries is by communicating and respecting others' boundaries; if you are in a team, ask about performance expectations, and perhaps more importantly, prepare how best to respond to boundary violations.
  • Align with the Company Culture: It is important to state that whenever you accept to work in a company, by extension, you agree to abide by its culture that comprises the mission, objective, practices, and attitude. Never assume that company culture will bend to accommodate individual interests, or you will never be held accountable for failure to adhere.
  • Manage Personal Expectations: We all have personal and performance expectations at work. What happens when we cannot realize them? Understanding that a workplace can offer disappointments makes us better prepared to manage expectations and adapt.
  • Manage Expectations of Others: In addition to managing personal expectations, it is important to learn how to manage the expectations of others. This is especially important if you are a team leader or previous experience better informs you on expected output.
  • Manage Customer Expectations: Customers usually have high expectations; after all, when they select your products or services, they do so, hoping to get value for money.
  • What happens when your organization or you as the company representative cannot meet their expectation? If unchecked, it can lead to revenue loss and a bad review.
  • To avoid such, clearly explain to the customer their expectation, and in case of disappointment, create a remedy that will leave both parties satisfied.

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How can Leaders Manage Expectations at Work Practically?

Whereas managing expectations is a two-way street - between employers and employees- it is important for leaders to take the lead in shaping expectations.

Employees often look towards leaders for direction, including on expectations. If there is trouble setting clear expectations, employees will move in different directions, resulting in a toxic work environment.

To manage expectations at work, do the following:

  • Clearly defining work scope and expectations on the role
  • Explaining company culture and why it matters
  • Set realistic goals for individuals and teams
  • Offer constructive feedback
  • Organize employees training, coaching, and mentoring sessions
  • Prioritize effective communication
  • Becoming a role model
Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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How Highrise Can Help

At highrise, we understand that expectations at work are vital for meeting objectives - as a person or as a team.

The benefits of mastering this important skill are immense and will overall boost your reputation within your organization to ensure that you achieve success.

Contact us today if this is one of your skills to implement at work.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.