Have you ever had one of those days when you just couldn’t seem to get anything done, despite your best intentions? Unless you’re a superhuman with impeccable initiative and an inability to be distracted by cute cate videos, you probably know what we’re talking about. Whether its the myriad of work piling up on your desk, a host of small problems that seem to pull you away from larger tasks, or simply a lack of a good nights sleep that leaves you unable to focus, we’ve all had moments in the workplace where we feel less than satisfied with our accomplishments.
Sure, we can sit and beat ourselves up for not punching out that report fast enough or for not getting that extra invoice sent out for the day, but repeated studies show that criticizing ourselves, and others, for perceived failures can often be counterproductive. Don’t get us wrong, from time to time there will be a bad apple in the workforce who turns out to be lazy or uncoachable, but the majority of us simply need a little help in prioritization. This is why true leaders should resolve to manage expectations, both of themselves, and others, in order to improve performance rather than simply asking for more or harder work. Sound impossible? Let’s dig into a few simple ways to make big changes with this approach.
Evaluate the Current Situation
Whether it’s a single project or an entire system or way of conducting business before goals can be set or deadlines established leaders need to evaluate the current state of affairs. What are your main pain points or problem areas in your industry and specific place of business? What are short, medium, and long term projects that need to be accomplished? Finally, what are your current staffing capabilities both in number and talent? Evaluating each of these with a critical eye is a crucial first step to undertake before you can move on to planning and implementation.
Establish Realistic Goals
Whether it’s yourself or your employees, if you are unclear on what can realistically be accomplished in a given timeframe, it will be nearly impossible to set clear, realistic timelines. Can you really roll out that systemwide software upgrade in three months? Perhaps there’s a project that other companies could accomplish in a few weeks but with your current staffing levels, it will take a team more than double the time. In short, be honest with your assessment of the situation and don’t be afraid to ask for extra resources, additional time, or to push back altogether if a goal just isn’t doable. Not only will this save you face with management and your team, but you’ll also be less likely to discourage your own efforts due to feelings of failure or hopelessness from trying to meet an unrealistic endgame.
Expectations of Self
When it comes to managing expectations, leadership starts at the top. Be an example to your team by identifying, establishing, and then following up on clear goals for your own performance. While these don’t always need to be communicated directly to those you work with, do take the opportunity to mention during regular check-ins or team meetings. This will help keep you accountable and will also signal to others that you take promises seriously when it comes to your work performance.
Expectations of Your Team
Leading by example is great and all, but if you aren’t clear in communicating your expectations to those who answer to you, it’ll be difficult to try and introduce a culture of accountability. Many managers get hung up when it comes to being afraid to ask too much of their team members. This can create hedging in your directions and confusion when it comes to what was supposed to get done and by whom. To avoid these hiccups, sit your team down and establish clear protocols and procedures for asking for help and taking direction.
When assigning an individual project, be clear about the final due date and any nuanced guidance you may have to delivery or roll out. Lastly, if a deadline is dropped or less than the optimal product is turned in, be sure to debrief your individual team members as to what went wrong. This can make a big difference in weeding out poor performers from those who simply need additional guidance and can also identify flaws in your own ability to clearly communicate expectations.
Expectations of Your Company
While the individual cogs are the day to day performers, the company you answer to also needs to live up to its promises in order for the individual employees to be effective in their roles. If you are being asked to implement a plan that is simply unfeasible with your current staffing levels or resources, be sure to speak up. Asking for the tools and support you need to do your job won’t be considered rude or demanding but instead will demonstrate that you are a leader who wants to get things done and isn’t afraid to speak up when necessary in order to execute a vision.
It’s Not a One Time Fix
While the above basic guidelines are a great place to start to develop a method for managing expectations, it’s important to know these steps aren’t a one time practice. Each new initiative, project, or major sales goal will need some version of the above, even in an abbreviated format. It’s also useful to schedule regular check-ins both for yourself and your team to ensure that there hasn’t been any material change in assumptions that may necessitate a shift in expectations. Remember that accountability is a key skill for any great leader and that execution of this trait goes both up and down the corporate ladder. Keep good housekeeping of your ability to manage expectations of self and others and you’ll be well on your way to getting more accomplished and to feeling less overwhelmed in the process.