To complete tasks effectively, keep a team on the same page, and ensure clear communication, it’s important to set employee expectations. This is especially important when managing remote teams and hybrid work, where time zone differences and a lack of physical proximity mean we have to change up traditional methods of team interaction.

In this article, let’s discuss creative and evidence-based ways to set expectations — and how we can do this with distributed or virtual teams.

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What does it mean to set expectations?

Setting expectations involves creating objectives, providing resources, establishing reciprocity, and ensuring accountability.

Set objectives

If you’re a manager, it’s important to understand what is the end goal, “definition of done,” or finished state of a project or task. Setting expectations is often about setting objectives.

Edwin Locke’s Goal Setting Theory shows that it’s human nature to want clear goals because we get a buzz from marking items off our to-do lists.

In the world of tabletop games or card games, we’d often call these accomplishments the “win condition.” If you move a certain game piece to the opposite side of the board, you win. Or, if you get rid of all the cards in your hand before your opponents do, you win. 

Helping your team know the “win conditions” of tasks, projects, or assignments means they have the end in mind — it’s starting from the end and working backward.

Setting clear expectations means that your team knows the final stop in their journey. Even if there’s a proverbial detour, they’ll still reach their destination because they know the goal. 

Your team can’t read your mind. So, it’s important to document all objectives clearly, especially when you and your team rely on asynchronous communication. This way, teams can access these goals whenever they’re at their respective desks (or at a coffee shop or coworking space). You support them by communicating where you’re trying to go, who needs to handle different aspects of the project, and how to know when milestones or deliverables are due. 

But, to get these goals accomplished, setting expectations includes letting your team know what you’ll do to enable them to complete these things.

Provide resources

As you’re setting expectations, it’s important to set up your team for success with the right tools, information, spec sheets, subject matter experts, or budgets. When creating new projects, ensure your team knows what ingredients they can use to craft their solution. 

We’ve got a whole article on project resource management, but to summarize, know what tools you have to begin with. Generally speaking, you’ll have a budget, materials, people, and technology you can utilize. 

Be sure to listen to your team’s feedback when informing them about the resources allotted for the project. They’ll let you know if they have what they need or are missing anything.

Establish reciprocity 

It’s a manager’s job to set objectives and allocate resources. But expectations are a two-way street. Your team needs to know what you’re committing to — and that’s what we mean by reciprocity.

According to Steve Dion on Fast Company, reciprocity is about “clearly defin[ing] what the employee can expect from you and the organization in support of them committing to specific results.”

To put it another way, if you want to meet deadlines with specific deliverables, your team needs to know that you’re committed to removing blockers, aligning stakeholders, or willing to acquire more bandwidth if delays appear.

Ensure accountability

It’s impossible to hold someone accountable for something that they’re unaware of. By being clear about outcomes, resources, and reciprocity, everyone on your team should know what’s required, how to get help if they need it, and who’s responsible for completing work.

Be sure that “accountability” doesn’t equate to consequences. That’s how people often use the term. When they say, “hold someone accountable,” they usually mean something punitive.

However, Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory gives us a more helpful and positive view of accountability. It points to two different kinds of incentives: motivation and hygiene. Motivational factors are positive and intrinsic factors that involve attaining something, such as accomplishment or recognition. Hygiene factors are negative and extrinsic factors that involve avoiding something, like a demotion or a reprimand.

Ensure you incorporate these positive factors into accountability. Don’t simply make negative consequences the motivation. Prioritize your teams’ intrinsic goals and self-actualization into accountability and “win conditions.”

Successful expectation setting 

It doesn’t matter if your team is made up of project-based contractors or if you’re dealing with veteran VPs and committed C-levels. Setting expectations — especially for a distributed and global workforce — is key to positive employee experience and retention. Incorporate expectation-setting into your weekly 1:1s, daily stand-ups, or quarterly planning; you might be surprised by how much more motivation your team has.

Category: Remote