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Human Resources

How to Communicate Expectations to Employees

Whether an employee has experience or not, there are bound to be circumstances where it is not clear what is expected of them. Any employee's actions are in part shaped by perceived expectations of their role and responsibilities in the workplace. Communicating expectations effectively can keep employees on task and producing what your company needs.

Write and Maintain Effective Job Descriptions

A job description is more than just a tool to generally familiarize a job applicant with a new job. An effective job description also serves as the blueprint to communicate job expectations. A job description will not only delineate tasks, but also define the amount of autonomy, bookkeeping, and reporting that needs to be done. Expectations outside of the job duties, such as those dealing with conduct and hygiene, can be expressed through an employee policy handbook.

A well-written job description will make the responsibilities of physical demands, schedule, work environment, job priorities, on down to how they will be held accountable clear.

Live Through Your Company Values

It is worth noting that a common complaint for managers is that employees should know how to perform without excessive guidance whereas employees often believe that managers aren't clear on their expectations. One way to have everyone on the same page is to tie expectations to your company's key performance indicators. Any action that is unclear can be explained in the context of how it effects the indicators, which are an evaluative reflection of a company's core values.

Taking this approach aside, there are a number of common expectations present in virtually every job. While these criteria will hold different value in different occupations, as a general rule they can be considered favorable qualities for any job. This list, adapted from this document, includes:

  • Quality of Work
  • Communications
  • Dependability
  • Hygiene
  • Decisiveness
  • Creativity
  • Problem Solving
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Good Relationships
  • Motivation (i.e. Web Usage)
  • Knowledge/Skills
  • Volume of Work
  • Organizational Abilities
  • Judgment

Communication is Key

A business environment is bound to be environment and expectations can change, but constant communication is the best way to ensure everyone's on the same page. Over-communicating is better than under-communicating. If you say nothing, an employee will assume they're doing a good job. Be direct – what you think is an obvious hint may be overlooked entirely. You can also assume that every employee will want to put their best foot forward. People may have bad habits, but that doesn't mean that they don't have the capacity for change or that they don't want to succeed at their job. Offering constructive criticism can motivate an employee as much as threaten them. Furthermore, this will help you identify between an under-performing employee and an insubordinate one.

Try to avoid all positive or all negative feedback. That doesn't mean that every time you point out something wrong you should back it up with a complement. Rather, employ constant genuine communication. Furthermore, while its nice to be considerate to your employees, not being clear about expectations such as deadlines and reminders will only cause more trouble.

Also, employee feedback should not only take place during official reviews. While quarterly reviews are a nice addition, they are not a replacement for everyday communication.

Request and Listen to Employee Feedback

Giving employees an opportunity to express their concerns is an important aspect of both evaluating expectations and adjusting them for the growth of your company. Having a regular meeting time will provide an environment where employees know they can appropriately give feedback. You can use this opportunity to find out what work they want to do. Even if the position seems menial or you have a clear vision for what a job should be, the person performing the job is becoming the expert through experience. They may have little suggestions that escape the mind and could only come from hands-on experience. Furthermore, an employee is more motivated to do something that is their own idea – they have a stake not just in doing a good job for their general reputation but also to prove their worth in ideas.

Perhaps the most meaningful expectation you can communicate is that expectations can (and should) be exceeded.

Additional Resources

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