My first article this month looked at the need to empower employees, provide autonomy and lead with trust. This article explores the need for clarity of expectations if those needs are to have successful outcomes.
Setting clear expectations is part of the bedrock of a successful hybrid team. You can empower and provide autonomy, but without clarity your efforts will be wasted.
Without clarity, trust will be diminished.
Brené Brown coined the phrase “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind” in her book titled Dare to Lead. Brené was talking about the importance of hard conversations and how we avoid clarity as we feel we are being kind, while what we are really doing is being unkind and unfair. Feeding people half-truths to make them feel better is unkind.
The other reason we need to remember that clear is kind and unclear is unkind is when we are delegating to our empowered and autonomous employees, but not being absolutely clear about our expectations.
If you are not clear about what your expectations are but still hold your employee accountable and then blame them, when they do not deliver is unkind.
Clear is kind
Many leaders assume they have set clear expectations and that their employees know what is required. However, this is often not the case, and the lack of clarity causes harm, damage to relationships and it diminishes trust.
Leaders providing clarity of expectations is even more important when change is volatile, uncertain and complex. Your employees need clarity.
Expectations could include the deliverables and outcomes, time frames, budgets, resources, progress updates and reporting frequency.
If these expectations aren’t clear, your employee will head off with the best intentions and beaver away to deliver on the expectations that they heard but not the ones you intended them to hear.
This not only leads to great concern for the employee who believed they were doing a great job, only to eventually find out that they have fallen short of what you expected. It also causes great concern for you as the outcome you were looking for has not been delivered and you also may be held accountable for that.
Remember, your employees are not mind readers. You have to provide clarity and ensure understanding.
Before delegating and communicating your expectations of your employee, clarify your thoughts. If you do not do this, you could be thinking on the fly and your expectations could be vague and unclear.
When you clarify your thoughts, you should then communicate them as simply as possible to aid in comprehension.
Focus on what, not how
When setting expectations, start with the outcome and value you want to achieve, not how you want it done. When you focus on “what,” the outcome is clearer to your employee and not masked by the fog of “how.”
Be clear about what success looks or feels like. Ensure that your employee knows “why” the outcome is important. What will be the benefits to be gained and by whom?
Focusing on “what” rather than “how” allows your employees to feel more invested in the process toward completion. Focusing on “how” stifles creativity.
Don’t dictate your expectations. Have a conversation about the goal and co-create the task to achieve the goal.
If you discuss the goal and work together to determine the best approach to achieving the goal, there is far more chance that your expectations will be understood.
Your employee may have different thoughts about milestones, timelines, required resources and check-in frequency. When employees have input into the goal and the tasks, they also have a sense of ownership. There is increased investment
You should also determine what your employee’s expectations of you are. This is a two-way street.
You cannot assume understanding — you must validate it. It’s often easier to sense whether someone has understood what you have said when you are physically co-located. It’s easier to read indicators like body language.
You can validate understanding by getting your employee to play back to you their understanding of your expectations.
If the playback is not an accurate reflection of your expectations, you now have the opportunity to make corrections before any damage gets done.
Once you are both on the same page, your employee can commence with the task at hand.
Keep checking in with your employees to make sure they are still on track and have not veered off the intended path.
Just like sailing a boat, you don’t just get onboard, set a compass and wait until you reach your destination. There are lots of factors that can impact your journey such as changes in the weather and sea conditions. You keep checking your compass to ensure you are heading in the right direction and make amendment if necessary. Your employee journey to achieve their task is just the same, you need to keep checking in to ensure that something has not changed their course of direction.
Make sure that your employee knows that you are there to support them at any time. You have not abdicated responsibility because you have delegated. You are trusting your employee to take ownership and be responsible for achievement of excepted outcomes. Your role is not to direct, but to provide direction. You are there to advise, provide guidance and remove obstacles when necessary. You are there to enable your employees to be the best they can be.
When this is understood, employees will feel safe to ask for help if they become unclear on what your expectations are.
As a leader, you are accountable for setting clear expectations and ensuring understanding. When you empower your employees, provide autonomy and delegate tasks, accountability still stays with you.
Leading a hybrid team means you must work twice as hard to ensure there is understanding. The indicators that someone is unsure, unclear, or confused can be hidden when you are leading employees working remotely.
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Period.
Karen Ferris is an organizational change-management consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. Her opinions are her own.