How to clearly set and communicate expectations as a manager

There are few things more important as a manager than being able to communicate effectively. Ensuring that your team members know what’s expected of them is key in being able to lead an efficient, successful and happy team.

If expectations aren’t communicated clearly, it can be detrimental to the success of your team. Research found that a surprising 69% of managers reported being uncomfortable communicating with their employees, with 37% of those also expressing discomfort giving direct feedback about people’s performance in case of a negative response.

These numbers are alarming given how important it is to both set up expectations in the first place, and provide feedback based on previous performance in order to help people improve their future work. If managers are unclear in communicating how things should be done, it can lead to employees being confused, unmotivated and disengaged. One study found that businesses with good communication practices were more likely to have lower than average turnover, so it really makes a difference to employees and how they feel about their work.

To communicate your expectations clearly, you must know what you want from people and set them realistic, reasonable tasks and deadlines. After this, it all comes down to communication: the ability to lay down exactly what you want and need, and make sure your team can align with it. How you assign things to people is equally important as the thing you’re assigning: tailoring how you communicate with different people has a huge impact.

Regardless of how things are going, communicate your expectations consistently. Having an ongoing process in place ensures your team know what’s expected of them and keeps you aware of progress. It also means your team will have more autonomy over their work; something most modern employees are looking for. Having regular conversations ensures everyone’s on the same page and allows for less confusion or miscommunication. The best managers will have an individual relationship with each team member that allows for them to have an open, ongoing conversation.

With these key points in mind, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to ensuring you communicate your expectations to your team in the best way possible.

1. Solidify your expectations

As you assign a task, make it clear that you need a high standard of work completed and a time-frame in which it must be done. Don’t be ambiguous when it comes to what you’re asking of people, make things clear from the offset and ensure people know what to do if they have issues or questions. If, for example, they should be checking in or addressing queries with their team lead, or with you as a manager directly.

2. Give a purpose

People will be far more willing and motivated to complete what’s expected of them if they can relate it to something with meaning. Instead of just asking people to complete a specific report, for example, share with them what that report will accomplish on a larger scale; how it will contribute in conjunction with the work of the rest of the team, and how will it positively impact the organization in a wider sense.

3. Confirm things

It’s good practice when assigning bigger tasks or projects to encourage people to write down what’s expected of them with a breakdown of steps or actions needed in order to achieve the goal. This is not only helpful in the sense that it will help people commit to and be motivated to complete goals, but it also further ensures you remain on the same page and have a solid plan of action moving forward. There are various tools you can use to keep track of goals and the progress being made.

4. Check back

Check back after a few days. Of course, there’s a fine line between keeping people on task and micromanaging, and it’s important to acknowledge this. It’s not necessary to be on people’s backs constantly. The key is to casually check in with people to ensure expectations are being met. Even just take 10 minutes to chat over coffee and ask if people are on track to meeting expectations and if they feel deadlines are still realistic. Better yet, there are tools out there that can provide a shared space for 1:1s, and other helpful ways to share feedback and stay connected with your team. Not only will it mean everyone is on the same page and concerns can be addressed, but it also shows people you’re invested in them and what they’re doing and want to take the time out to discuss it.

5. Hold regular meetings

Have regular, perhaps bi-monthly meetings with the team to keep a two-way conversation flowing and ensure that communicating what you want isn’t just something which happens when you assign tasks or projects. Set clear goals during these meetings for the team, and break them down into goals for individuals so that everyone knows exactly what they’re working towards and the practical steps to get there.

6. Hold 1-on-1’s

Having solo conversations around progress can keep you on the same page as your team and make sure that once initial expectations have been set, the conversation remains open and opportunity for any discussion needed is there. 1:1’s can be especially useful, as it’s not just your team that can gain feedback. It’s also great opportunity for you to grow as a manager, as you can tailor how you interact with people once you know them on a more personal level and are aware how they prefer things communicated to them, whether it’s being assigned a task, having goals set, or a more general performance based conversation.


For more insights into how you can use feedback to motivate, engage and develop your team, download our free eBook below. If you're interested in a platform that might support you as a Manager to have closer and more effective relationships with your people, then feel free to explore The People Enablement Platform. Share it with your HR or People team to let them know if you think it might help you set and communicate clearer expectations, as well improving your chances of developing a high performing team.

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