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Setting Expectations

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Dear Colleagues,

Last month you received the first Monthly Management Tips email. We hope you found the information about Creating a Culture of Support and Accountability useful and we welcome your feedback for suggestions and future topics. This month’s topic will focus on setting expectations.

Management Topic: Setting Expectations

Setting expectations is key to the success of any manager, but is particularly important when managing a remote workforce. The poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Without setting expectations with your employees, your goals of effectively leading your team will quickly lead to a lack of unified direction, obscurity and poor results. So what does setting expectations look like?

To answer this, you must first ask yourself three basic questions: Why, What, and How?


Have you ever explained what you want an employee to do, only to have that employee return results that are the exact opposite of what you had in mind? Chances are, that employee’s interpretation of what you wanted was misunderstood because they didn’t understand why they were doing what you asked of them. Think of it this way, if you have ever had to assemble furniture from Ikea, think about how much more difficult the instructions would be if you didn’t have a picture of how the final product should look. Allow your employees the opportunity to understand the bigger picture, and the smaller tasks along the way will be easier to identify and perform.


Now that your employees know the why, you can move on to the next step of what. This is the set of objectives you want to accomplish. These can be either team or individual objectives, but must be clear and definable with measurable results. Management should provide as much information as they can to provide a clear direction to employees and teams of what the finished assignment or objective will look like. Transparency is also important and management should share what information they may not have about the outcome as well. It’s also recommended that management not assume that employees are thinking and envisioning the same things they are. During your conversation with an employee, intermittently check for understanding. It’s important that expectations and goals align with the University and department’s mission and goals, and be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound


Goals are achieved by setting an objective, and measuring it with key results. This is a concept known as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and was developed by Andy Gough, a professor and software manager known for being an effective leader by keeping his management principles simple and approachable. This system can be applied to anything that has a desired outcome. It can be used to provide direction to an entire organization, to an individual employee, or even to achieve personal goals. Specifically, it is setting simple, measurable goals, sticking with those goals, making adjustments along the way to address shortfalls, and having a way to measure results. This may sound basic and intuitive, but think about your own team. Are there clearly defined goals? Do your team members understand their role in achieving these goals? Have you established a way to measure these goals? If you answered no to any of those questions, it is time to take a step back and formulate a plan. This plan will help take your expectation from concept to deliverable and provide you and your employees the “how” to get this done.

Bringing It All Together

Last month we talked about providing a culture of support and accountability. Creating and properly communicating clearly defined goals and expectations is the next component to setting your employees on a path to success. Ensuring expectations were set and understood also provides you a foundation for holding employees and teams accountable.

Helpful Tools to Learn More About This Topic:

How to Set Clear Expectations (1 minute 31 seconds)

SHRM Article: 6 Tips on Setting Expectations for Employees

UC Setting Expectations and Individual Performance Goals (50 minutes)

Scenario for Discussion:

Your team receives an urgent request to provide time sensitive budget information to senior leadership. Multiple team members express concerns due to conflicting deadlines and uncertainty. What can you do as a manager to ease concern, help efficiency, and provide direction to your concerned team? What information needs to be provided to give your team a clear path to success?

This document may help you in formulating your plan and setting expectations discussions.

Recommendations for how to address January’s Scenario can be found here.

Stay Safe!

Leadership 2029

Do you have feedback, questions or a suggested topic you would like to learn more about? Please email:

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