Unmet, unspoken expectations are not broken promises

Unmet, unspoken expectations can breed resentment. It happens all the time. Let’s say you’re having a conversation with your direct report, Robyn, about a new billing process that was recently implemented, and you both wholeheartedly agree it’s not working. It’s causing your clients a lot of frustration. Robyn says she has a few ideas on ways to improve the process and she’ll make sure to sort it out. Two weeks go by, and you keep hearing new stories from other folks in the organization about upset clients complaining about the billing changes. Then, you start getting annoyed with Robyn. She said she had ideas, and she was going to take care of it! Of course, you never actually explicitly discussed when she would take care of it. In the meantime, Robyn has four other projects on the go, which she believes are much higher priority, and accordingly, she has planned to tackle the billing process issues at the end of the month. So Robyn has no concept of your slowly building resentment because neither of you actually spoke clearly about what the expectation was.

Setting clear expectations is an undervalued and incredibly important skill set. So often, we create our own version of expectations, without explicitly clarifying them. We leave a conversation with someone, each having a very different set of expectations for priority, importance, and timeline.

There’s so much written about the value of providing your team members with autonomy and avoiding ‘micromanagement’. If you’re onboarding a new employee and speaking to them about how they like to be managed, there’s a good chance you’ll hear that they do NOT want to be micromanaged. Which makes sense of course. However, there is a huge difference between setting clear expectations and micromanaging someone.  

I know my own aversion to micromanaging my team has on occasion led to the unintentional consequence of being too vague on expectation setting, which is ultimately problematic for everyone. Being extremely clear and mutually agreeing upon deadlines (including specific dates and times), and quality and scope of work expectations, can save everyone a headache and avoid the resentment that is bred from unmet and unspoken expectations.