It has been about a week since my last post, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about the importance of setting the right expectations. But what is the right expectation? Different people certainly have different expectations in different situations.  I find that many of us are guilty of OVERPROMISING and UNDERDELIVERING, let’s be honest here, even though we are told to ensure the contrary.

Some of us may not think so, but it is very easy to overpromise.  Shading the truth a little bit or even cutting corners to save a few bucks on your bottom line. Without setting clear expectations, even your most successful project can quickly become nothing more than a subjective pat-on-the-back from your boss.

I have put together a list of 5 things I always try to remember when I am setting expectations with my employer and/or colleagues to ensure that I maintain my professional credibility.

1.  Keep Your Promises (No Matter What)!

It is simple to earn respect and build strong long-lasting business relationships – just remember if you make promises – KEEP THEM! No matter what! This is the single most important rule for ensuring that you not only keep customers, bosses and colleagues happy but also will salvage the respect of everyone on your professional rolodex.  This may seem like an overly trivial tip but SEVERAL businesses lose fortunes on undelivered expectations, by making false promises.  When you work for yourself, and everyone is the client, it’s very easy to make promises.   Promises are what everyone wants to hear. Sales teams have actually perfected the art of weaseling promises to try and make a sale.  However, the customer will always, [ALWAYS] catch this.  If you can’t deliver what you promise, DO NOT MAKE PROMISES. It’s just that simple.

2. Focus on Outcomes

Expectations should focus on outcomes, not activities. In other words, you achieve clarity when you identify the expected results rather than the method for achieving them. Managers often make the mistake of attempting to direct the process that an employee will use rather than being clear about results. The advantage of identifying the outcome is that you, the manager, focus only on the goal; after all, the employee will develop the method for achieving the desired results.

Defining the objective often requires some thought on the part of the manager because it is easy to fall into the “activities trap.” While developing a strategic plan for a department or division is a worthy activity, it does not represent an outcome.

3.  Always Lead with Values

Great leadership begins with a clear, unambiguous statement of expectations. Great leaders clarify, in specific terms, exactly what they expect of the people they lead.  This applies to every thing from work attendance to sales or production sales and/or production goals and quotas, to organizational values.  Yes, values.  Leaders cannot expect the people they lead to conduct themselves in accordance with organizational values if they don’t make it very clear that these values are important and that they expect everyone to act in a manner consistent with organizational beliefs and guiding principles Always remember to lead with values.

4. First Impressions Always Set the Stage

First impressions are still touted as the make-it or break-it of relationship building, this moment in time defines the level at which expectations are initially cast and carries considerable weight in future interactions. This benchmark can be the joy or bane of your professional credibility and is tested each time a consumer comes in contact with your brand, either directly or indirectly.

5. Never Leave Room for Assumption

Mind reading is never a job requirement, in spite of what some managers think.  When the end result is a surprise, in most cases, it is also a failure.  I know of several managers that don’t set expectations very well. They are superstars at noticing when things aren’t done right, but when it comes to telling their employees upfront what they want, they communicate by mental telepathy.  You can’t over communicate. When it comes to setting clear expectations and providing feedback – you can see the difference between a great leader with a highly effective team and a mediocre leader with above average turnover because the great leaders never leave room for assumption.

OK, what point am I really trying to drive home? Well, expectations can be both a blessing and a curse! When you meet people’s expectations, they’re generally very grateful!  If your employees know what is expected of them, it allows them to focus on results and to monitor themselves against the set standards. Environments in which expectations are not clear, or change from week to week, seldom create high-performing and productive work groups.  The vast majority of performance problems that supervisors experience can be prevented or virtually eliminated by setting and communicating expectations appropriately.  Just remember that your professional credibility is a direct representation of how you are perceived at work.  Continue to set realistic expectations and you will maintain the respect you have worked so hard to earn.