August 18, 2019
Training and Development 01 July 2017
Setting Clear Expectations for Employees
Dillon Chen
Setting Clear Expectations for Employees

Everybody knows the importance of communication. Whether it be with family, friends, coworkers or customers, proper communication is what helps us understand and connect with others. Clear expectations lead to seamless communication and help in overcoming barriers as problems and challenges arise.

As a manager in a business setting, setting clear expectations for employees is an absolute necessity! Imagine this: during a weekly meeting, one of your employees presents what they've been working on for the whole week only to find that it’s nothing at all like what you expected or wanted. You can be sure that neither of you is going to feel very good when you ask them to redo everything!If both sides don’t know what the other wants, it opens the door to feelings of resentment and frustration. There are multiple reasons why employees end up leaving a company. Setting expectations from the very start can prevent these kinds of things from happening.

 The steps to setting clear expectations are:

  • Define the expectation
  • Know the reasoning behind the expectation
  • Document expectations
  • Break down goals
  • Get feedback
  • Follow-up

We’ll go through each step in-depth and give you some strategies that you can start using right away.

Define the Goal/Expectation

In order for employees to know your expectations, you must know them yourself! Personally know what your expectation is and how to make others understand what you want. No broad, vague instructions like “do your job better”, be as direct and specific as you can. 

Ways to be direct and specific:

  • Use simple language
  • Be straightforward, no room for confusion
  • Focus on details 
  • Give examples
  • Make it measurable, completed: yes or no?
  • Set a time limit/deadline if applicable

Once you know your own expectations, create goals to meet those expectations. Feel free to incorporate your employees’ opinions in creating these goals. Sharing this process will make employees feel more invested and committed to reaching expectations. 

For example, you expect your content editors to deliver high-quality content that will benefit your customers. You can define a few key indicators that you believe will impact quality and ask your editors what kind of numbers they expect they can hit in the quarter. By letting them make choices in a range that you define, you’re able to maintain a high standard and also involve your employees in the process.

A great way to set expectations is to follow the SMART goal method when creating your expectations. You can even incorporate expectations into your company's vision or mission statements so that employees will know the main purpose behind everything they do.

Know the Reasoning behind the Expectation

“Because I said so” isn’t going to cut it here! Back up your expectations with specific reasons as to what positive effects it will have for you, your business, or the employee themselves will lead to greater acceptance. Better yet, find ways to connect your expectations to employee growth and help them see how meeting your expectations will benefit them as well as the company!

The reason why your employees need to complete tasks in a certain way can be as simple as company unity or improved culture. No need for long-winded explanations, the most important thing is to have transparency between managers and workers so that there is no disconnect. Taking the time to explain your reasoning is a good way to show you respect employees and opens the door for them to ask questions or clarify tasks.

Sharing the reasons why you have high expectations will help you save yourself from trouble in the future. When employees have a better understanding of the reasoning behind the task, they will be more compliant and willing to take the necessary steps to meet expectations. They will see the context of how their work affects the bigger picture and be able to wholeheartedly commit to doing their work.


Document It

You know that saying 'If you didn't take a picture, it didn't happen?'  The same rule applies here. Once the goal or expectation is defined, it’s time to document it. It should be so clear to you that it can easily be written on paper or notated digitally. Having it written down actually makes for a great resource for both you and the employee to refer back to so that nobody forgets.

Once it is documented, have it easily accessible for everyone involved. This is a change that you can start implementing right away! Use software like AsanaProSky, or Trello to record your expectations and goals and track progress.

 Company-wide expectations can be written down somewhere everyone can see and frequently reviewed. When documented properly, employees will have is no excuse for forgetting or misunderstanding. Even better, it's a way to keep employees updated on completion progress visually so they can see how they are progressing.

Expectations that are straightforward and leave no room for misinterpretation will greatly improve your employees’ ability to perform to your satisfaction. Writing it down is just a part of the process to clear understanding for everyone.


Break it down

Breaking large goals into smaller, measurable pieces will help your employees from becoming discouraged. Add these checkpoints or milestones into your succession pathways so that both parties can benchmark and track long-term progress which will help the company hit deadlines.

Breaking down projects will not only assist employees to accomplish the goal, but it also gives them clear standards on how to move to the next level up in the company. By being transparent, companies earn the employees trust. Employees are more likely to stay with the company knowing they aren’t stuck doing the same thing with no chance of growth.

In a company, everybody has a part to play. The work you and your employees do are all pieces of a whole with some pieces being dependent on another part being completed. Some might become so overwhelmed by the big picture that they end up missing the smaller deadlines resulting in delays and setbacks. Breaking up your goals will save your business from these losses and unhappy customers.

Get feedback from your employee and engage with them. 

When you talk about expectations, don’t lecture, have a conversation! Getting employee feedback on expectations, or having them set goals themselves will increase their willingness and motivation to do it.

Instead of a top-down tone of a boss addressing a worker, adopt a more mentor-like approach. Have them tell you what they think your expectations are. Some examples of questions you can ask:

  • What are your thoughts about [expectation]? 
  • How are you feeling about [goal]?
  • Can you share some things that you did to meet [expectation]?
  • What are some ways we can improve on [goal numbers]?
  • Did you learn anything from [goal-hitting process]?

Clarify, make changes or suggest improvements if necessary, and give them resources or suggestions on how they can meet your expectations.An important part of mentoring is finding out what their expectations are for you. Expectations on pay, work performance, promotion opportunities, job description, etc. Being able to discuss these topics openly with your employee will go a long way towards being able to relate to them.

For example, they might be expecting a raise or even a promotion up the ranks for their good performance from the last few months. Talk it over with them to find what they hope to gain from you and do your part to meet their expectations. Better yet, set up a succession pathway with ProSky where the whole process is clear for both parties.



Set routine meetings where you can follow up with employees to meet and talk about progress. During these predetermined follow-up times, give praise and reward for completion of goals, or correction and encouragement if needed. This is a great time to review and check-in with them and to give updates on the progress of the company as a whole. 

How frequent you have these follow-up meetings will differ based on need, but the most important thing is consistency. In between the scheduled follow-ups, you can also give continuous feedback on milestone and goal completion. Send out surveys to track how candidates are feeling toward particular tasks and objectives. Encourage employees to file reports on progress and their well-being in general.

 At ProSky, we have follow-up meetings quarterly to discuss goals for the previous quarter and expectations for the future one. We also use recurring surveys to quickly gauge progress and mood. I often look forward to these opportunities to meet with my manager and hear how my contributions have helped the company. 

If you are coaching employees through achieving personal goals that they set for themselves, follow up on those as well. Don’t forget to answer any questions or concerns they had for you from a previous meeting. Lead by example and keep your own commitments to employees. This will motivate them to do the same as well as build up their trust in you.


There you have it, all the steps to get started setting clear expectations with your employees! Though this will take practice, it will help you and your worker relationships immensely in the long run and give them a reason to stick around! You will see employees grow through your mentoring as well as increased retention and satisfaction in your company. Start setting clear expectations with employees using ProSky pathways today!

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