Are You Managing Others’ Expectations?

We often throw around the term “manage expectations” at work, but what does it really mean, and why is it so important?

In the placement work we do, we pride ourselves on managing the candidate’s and firm’s expectations by communicating job responsibilities and salary requirements and even the intangibles such as culture. Our goal is that there will be no surprises for either the candidate when they arrive and start working, or for the firm when they on-board the candidate into the team. Our favorite comment to hear from a candidate six months into their new role is, “This job is exactly what you said it would be!”

We have all had work situations where our expectations were not well managed. Why does this happen, and what’s the damage? I’ve reflected on my own experiences, and I think there are two main causes – sometimes the employee or candidate does not want to admit to themselves that they can’t deliver what you want, and sometimes they don’t realize a piece of information is important to communicate. For example, a few years ago I hired a few former attorneys who wanted to return to the workforce after being home with their children. We agreed on 15 hours a week, but after six months I realized that they were only showing up 8-10 hours each week. I now believe that they didn’t manage my expectations because even though they couldn’t make the time commitment needed, they hoped they could. Have you ever had that experience where someone hoped they could do something, but when push came to shove, they really couldn’t?

I recently had another experience where a former placement asked to meet me to discuss her next career move. After many years in New York, she was ready to move back home to the Midwest. We sat and brainstormed her next move and I mentioned that I was speaking to a specific firm the next day in Chicago about a new role. The next day, when I emailed her the job description for the role, she told me that she had already applied. Applying directly to an opportunity is fine, but withholding that information over the course of a 90-minute meeting is not.

What’s the damage when we don’t manage expectations? Trust. In the almost 24 years I have been in business, I have seen bad situations turned around by people stepping up and managing expectations, even when that means telling people things they don’t want to hear, like that they won’t be promoted when they expected to be, or that their job will be eliminated by year end.

As important as we all know managing expectations is, it’s really hard to do and therefore frequently avoided. Trust in business relationships is key. If you know something needs to be communicated to manage expectations, do it, even if it’s uncomfortable! We may forget when someone has managed our expectations, but we rarely forget when they have not!

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