The importance of explicit expectations

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Jun 24 2024 by Karl Hebenstreit Print This Article

How many of you are not 100% crystal clear about what your boss and organization expect of you? Who has been surprised by negative or critical feedback on something on/about which you thought you were doing well and according to agreed-upon parameters? Who has been blindsided by performance review comments that were never brought up to you before during the course of the entire year? Who has not been considered for roles or projects in which you have more experience, talent, and interest/passion than the selected candidate?

Sound familiar? Sadly, all of these scenarios are all-too-common re-occurrences in the workplace (and transferable into personal relationships, as well, no?) that are totally avoidable with one simple and consistent practice: communication. If real estate’s mantra is “location, location, location,” the mantra for human effectiveness is “communication, communication, communication.”

Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. The miscommunication (or lack of communication), misattributions, misperceptions, and oversights that led to the surprises mentioned above are all the result of a pervasive, long-held belief intended to make our lives easier: the Golden Rule.

Throughout our lives and human existences, we have all been conditioned, programmed, and predisposed to accept a short-sighted, ego-serving, and limiting belief that we are to follow the Golden Rule, treating others the way we, ourselves, would want to be treated. At first blush, that sounds pretty egalitarian and fair. And it would be – if only everybody was the same.

The trouble is that the Golden Rule assumes that we are all equal and have the same tastes, preferences, wants, desires, needs, motivations, drives, ideologies, politics, backgrounds, abilities, etc. Given the state of the world, we can safely say that this isn’t true. The Golden Rule doesn’t account for the diversity of the world and contributes to feelings of superiority and even arrogance – that we know what others need and that our needs and perspectives are better than those of others – that we don’t even need to step outside of our comfort zone to ask others what their needs are or how they want to be treated.

That’s where the Platinum Rule comes in: treat others the way THEY want to be treated (with the caveats and limitations of safety, legality, wellness, universal ethics, etc. as guardrails, of course). The Platinum Rule invites us to step out of and expand our own fixed headspace and mindsets. It encourages us to approach others with curiosity about their diverse experiences and perspectives, and – since none of us is a mind-reader – understand where they’re coming from, what’s important to them, and how they view the world.

Ultimately, we would then take the next step to the enacting the Rhodium Rule, where we integrate some of this new knowledge into our own mindsets and enhance our own abilities to see the world differently and more robustly, enabling us to be more inclusive and effective in our understanding, decision-making, and interpersonal relationships.

We all experience a-ha moments in our lives – think about the last one you experienced. This is when we discover and accept a new way of looking at doing things that differed from our original thoughts – where we were stuck. Executive coaches are great at creating the space for this and asking questions for this to happen, by the way. This is often the bridge, gateway, or entry point between the Golden and Platinum rules.

You can see how adopting a Platinum Rule perspective, at minimum, can prompt managers to better understand the needs of all of their stakeholders. Identifying what’s important to each of their team members (and this WILL be different for each one), their aspirations, readiness timeframes, growth area interests, etc. can only come from talking with them, not just once in a while, but regularly. And this is also where EXPLICIT EXPECTATIONS comes into play.

As someone who has worked in the Human Resources / People, Leadership Development, and Organization Development arenas for over thirty years, I have lost count at how often and how many times managers make assumptions about what their direct reports want and what’s good for them … based on their very own limited understanding and perspectives of their very own lives, career trajectories, and experiences, and without ever talking to their direct reports to ask, confirm, or validate how these assumptions apply (or don’t) to their direct reports.

This blatant (and perhaps unconscious) dependency on the Golden Rule leads even the most well-meaning of managers to assume they know what’s best for each of their less-experienced team members, based on the way they themselves ascended the career ladder. After all, look where they are now! And that assumption may even lead them to believe that their team members should know how to do certain things according to how they themselves would do it.

Leveraging EXPLICIT EXPECTATIONS, we invite leaders and their direct reports to sit down and have a conversation, making the implicit explicit. In these one-on-ones, leaders can validate and confirm that each of their team members has the correct – and current – understanding of the organization’s direction. Is there clarity around the organization’s strategy? What about its mission, vision, values, long-term and short-term goals? How do these apply to the team member’s role? How does their role contribute to the achievement of these goals, mission, and vision? What are the manager’s expectations of the direct report?

This is a two-way street, so what are the direct report’s expectations of their manager? What does the direct report like to do? Aspire to do? What don’t they like doing? In which areas do they want to grow? In what areas or circumstances do they need the manager’s help and support? How are the manager and direct report similar and different? In their communication styles, needs, and expectations? In their thinking, feeling, and action styles? How will they resolve differences when they arise (and they will)? What agreements and rules of engagement do they need to put in place to ensure they have EXPLICIT EXPECTATIONS of one another, to prevent misunderstandings, hurt feelings, frustration, disenchantment, and disengagement?

Ideally and practically, this “contract” should be put in place and revisited often because, as we all know all too well, circumstances change. Company direction changes, goals change, directives are reprioritized, peoples’ family and personal situations change, etc. Ensuring that each party’s expectations are explicit and up-to-date will lead to open communication, increased trust, optimal understanding, higher satisfaction/engagement, and improved performance.

So now what? What are YOU going to do to make sure that you make your expectations explicitly known to and understood by others? What will you do to make sure you know theirs? My book, Explicit Expectations: The Essential Guide & Toolkit of Management Fundamentals, provides a step-by-step map to create your own action plan (using the Explicit Expectations Engagement & Alignment Guide) of ensuring that others’ expectations of you – this includes your team members, your boss, stakeholders, colleagues, customers, etc. – and your expectations of them are explicit and aligned.

The content of this book will help you if you’re a first-time people leader, or if you’re experienced and could benefit from a refresh/reboot introduction to the best practices in each area of practice that is expected of you (whether you realized it and it’s been clearly communicated to you, or not). You’ll be amazed at how focusing on this will increase your emotional intelligence and effectiveness in your work and relationships.

About The Author

Karl Hebenstreit
Karl Hebenstreit

R. Karl Hebenstreit is a certified executive coach, international speaker and organization development consultant. He is the author of Explicit Expectations: The Essential Guide & Toolkit of Management Fundamentals, published in May 2024.