Two weeks ago, you walked out of your meeting after setting your team on the path of an exciting new project. You pitched the vision. You let your enthusiasm bubble over. You know this can make a difference for your company. You sent them off to tackle it. You gave them a deadline for completion.
Now, two weeks later, you’re at the deadline and you’re disappointed. Again.
What happened? Was it you – or was it them?
Unmet expectations can silently erode your business relationships if you’re not willing to dig into the root cause. And if you’re leading a team, it can be highly destructive to building happy and productive teams. You can make all kinds of assumptions about your team’s listening skills, motivation or ability to manage a fast-paced work environment. You can also make all kinds of assumptions about what you actually communicated to them, and therefore what they actually took away from the discussion. If you are open to examining the true cause of this misstep, especially if it’s happened before, you may be able to reshape a confused team of mediocre performers into high-functioning superstars.
But first, let’s be honest about why most expectations go unmet:
• Lack of clarity. Sometimes we express an idea, a request, a query, and we do not know until we hear the response whether or not what we have said has been understood – the way that we intended it to be understood. We leave a lot open to interpretation because we simply assume the other person knows us well enough to know exactly what we mean. But what if your team members thought they were meeting your request?
• Wait, what did you say? We’re not the greatest listeners. And when our need isn’t met, we repeat the same request, often in the same way – except, perhaps, with a little more urgency or exasperation in our voice – because we cannot understand why we are not getting the desired result. We keep asking but we haven’t heard what our team has to say about it. And usually, they have said something.
• If they were only more [fill in the blank], they would do it. Even if we are aware that our request isn’t our team’s favorite thing to do for us, we believe that “if they were more motivated” or “if they listened more carefully,” then they would suck it up and comply. We’re assuming the challenge lies with the recipients, and therefore, our approach to instigating action is aimed at pushing them, not understanding them.
Why This Can Erode Your Relationships
The underlying verb in all of these is “assumed.” We figured that our teammates know us — and the company — well enough that meeting our expectations is a no-brainer. So we don’t have the conversations that clarify our request, and we ignore the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – signs that our team members may have a different point of view. Then, when the deadline is missed, you are both already coming it at from two different viewpoints.
When this happens consistently, it erodes trust. You don’t trust your team to follow through on your projects, and they aren’t trusting you as a leader to provide clear direction.
So How Do You Avoid The Erosion Of Trust?
Getting your teams on track – motivated, happy and producing – means you are providing clear direction, defined objectives, and the right support for them to achieve those goals.
1. Know what you truly want. We often burden our teams with unclear direction because we aren’t 100% sure ourselves on what we need to accomplish. Before unloading your own confusion on your team, take the time to get clear on your goal.
2. Clarify, clarify, clarify. Your team needs to understand, clearly, the value you place on accomplishing this goal. Not just what it is, but what it looks like. If you tell someone on your team you need more visibility into the work he’s doing, what does that mean? Do you need a written report or a 15-minute meeting? Every day? Or would three times a week suffice? Follow up to ensure your request is understood.
3. Understand the consequences. No one likes to talk about them, but there are consequences. If your need isn’t met, what changes? What changes for your business, or the team member’s career? This has to be part of the discussion if you’re going to have accountability.
4. Set aside time to discuss it. Let go of your expectations when you have an “oh, by the way” or “drive-by” discussion. For projects you want taken seriously, treat them seriously. “I’d like to talk about X project. When would be a good time?” Give yourself both the time and space to discuss and understand the expectations.
5. Ask what you can do or what else needs to happen for your team to meet your need. We forget this part a lot. Even as a leader, it’s a partnership, not a dictatorship. And as leader, your job is to ensure your team has the right tools and resources to do the job you’re asking of them.
6. Listen. Hard. Your team isn’t there to make your life harder, to give you headaches or make you look bad. It’s in their own self-interest, in fact, to make you look good. So when you hear resistance, take a breath, set your ego aside, and listen for where that resistance is really coming from. You all have the same end goal in mind: By listening, you can determine the best ways to get there together.
With deliberate conversation and clarity, we can reset our work relationships and stop holding our teams accountable for meeting expectations that they did not understand or did not agree to own. Instead, we can develop a mutually rewarding relationship with greater team productivity and job satisfaction for everyone.