Expectations are a natural human phenomenon that drive envisioning the future we want to achieve. It’s innate in every one of us – in both our personal and professional lives – to pin success and happiness to fulfilled expectations.
At work, fulfilled employee expectations can positively impact the work environment, employee satisfaction, productivity, the pace of innovation, product/service quality, and overall success for the organization.
In today’s world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (generally referred to as the VUCA environment), it’s more important than ever to have clear strategies in place for setting expectations. And expectation clarity is important across and at every level of the enterprise – organization, team, manager, and front line employee.
Recent changes in employee expectations
The recent pandemic has changed the dynamics of work environments, business cultures and employee expectations:
- Insights from IBV (Institute for Business Value) suggests that workers placed work-life balance (51%) and career advancement opportunities (43%) at the top of their list of priorities, with compensation and benefits (41%) and employer ethics and values (41%) following close behind. And more than a third of employees named continuous learning opportunities (36%) and organizational stability (34%).
- A McKinsey & Company report shows that work-life balance, flexibility, and mental health are front-of-mind for employees as they look to their employers for certainty about the future.
- Gallup findings suggest highly engaged teams deliver 21% greater profitability and that 89% of employees at organizations that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work.
To compete for and retain talent in this environment, organizations and their leaders must acknowledge then define and implement practices that reflect and promote what today’s workforce expects.
As you craft new standards and practices, take care to make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound) and aligned to the organizational goals. The key challenge is moving from being subjective to objective, which requires thorough analysis and a systematic approach.
Categories of expectations
- Organization expectations: At the core, businesses exist to achieve their mission (what they want to achieve in the next one or two years) and their vision (what they want to be in the long term). All organizational goals and expectations should align in achieving their mission and vision.
- Standard expectations: These are the expectations for every employee. They should be defined based on organizational policies, employee departments, job profiles, years of experience and any other factors that are deemed to be important. Aside from inevitable circumstances, such as medical emergencies, there shouldn’t be any leeway for standard expectations.
- Specific expectations: These expectations are unique to circumstances which may be prompted by a strategic imperative of the company, performance considerations, customer demands or seasonal variation in your business. In some cases, specific expectations may be set for individual employees, but take care to ensure they are supported by appropriate motivations such as performance or development objectives. An effective approach managers can take is to provide the details of WHAT is expected and WHEN it is considered done, then the employee can cover the details on HOW they will accomplish the goal.
Good leaders review and guide towards achieving the standard expectations along with giving an opportunity for accomplishment of specific personal and professional aspirations.
The expectation RIO model
Whoever is setting the expectation should always be aligning themselves considering the RIO model:
- Reason for expectation sets the baseline. It provides the opportunity to understand the nuances of the expectation and gets both the manager and employee on the same page. Never proceed to the next steps if the reason for expectation is not clear.
- Impacts of expectations should always be positive. Impact can be on the organization’s working culture, team’s motivation, work-life balance, or employee health conditions. It can also be short term or long term. Any negative impact provisions the opportunity to re-visit, re-evaluate and if needed change reason and outcome.
- Outcome of expectations brings in tangible measurement, with clear and agreed upon results. For a manager, the expectation of her team delivering a project on time with utmost quality can result in increased visibility across the organization. However, the same can be the stepping stone for a promotion to an employee leading the project.
It is critical that you write the reason, impact and outcome when setting goals. Studies suggest that there is 42% more likelihood of achieving what is expected when goals are written and reviewed regularly. When done well, exception setting paves the way to the triumph of employees, leaders and overall organization thus demanding focus, time, and thoughtfulness.
Jaleel is an astute leader, blogger and researcher with 18 years of experience in strategic execution, software product development, design implementation, program management and product delivery embarking digital transformations across diverse domains. He mentors and coaches individuals with disparate educational and cultural backgrounds fostering and steering them towards their professional goal accomplishment.