The Importance Of Setting Clear Expectations In Business...And In Life

Have you ever given someone an assignment and been disappointed with the outcome? I have. It wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t do what I asked, but their results didn’t meet my expectations. I was reminded of this recently when I came across the following recommendation from a blog on hiring teenagers for the summer:

Coach Them – Don’t assume that they know what you expect. Be very clear about what you want them to accomplish and how they are to do it. Do this at the outset, and throughout their employment. Show them their mistakes and how to improve. (Jeff DeWolf, Wolf Prairie - Hiring Teenagers: What You Need To Know)

As I read this, it occurred to me that this advice applies to more than just teenagers. How many times have I given a task to an employee to complete and then upon receiving the finished product wondered how on earth they came up with this?

When I don’t share the function or purpose behind the request, specify how the finished product will be used or what I want it to look like, more times than not the outcome will not meet my expectations.


Then, to top it off, instead of showing them what I wanted or how I would have done it differently, I correct it myself so I don’t have to confront them or make them “feel bad”. So now I have TOTALLY missed all of the helpful tips this blog highlighted!

The end result?

Wasted time, wasted effort, and the cycle is certain to be repeated. I have been on the other side of this scenario too many times and no one wins when it happens.

Does this only relate to the workplace? Regrettably, no…

Around the same time I ran across that blog post, I was having coffee with a friend of mine at Panera Bread. This particular morning, he brought along his 8-yr old son.

We sat at a table on the opposite side of the restaurant from where the orders are placed. When their order was ready, my friend politely asked his son to go pick up their food at the counter.

A couple of minutes later his son came back and said, “Dad, I don’t know where it is.” It was a relatively simple request, wasn’t it?

However, as I looked across the room where the pickup counter was several thoughts registered in my mind:

  1. My friend’s son had not picked up an order on his own at Panera before. In fact, this might have been his first time at Panera.
  2. The long pickup counter was six inches above his head.
  3. Even if he could see the plates, I’m not sure he knew exactly what his dad had ordered to know which order was theirs.

Suddenly what seemed like an easy assignment from my perspective became much more challenging. I’m afraid I've been guilty of the same thing with my own kids. I will ask my son to do something that he has never done before, that he has never seen modeled, and with little to no direction I expect him to know how to complete it perfectly.

Consequently I am frustrated with him over the results and he feels badly for disappointing his dad. Instead of being a good life skills learning opportunity and bonding experience, it causes distrust and drives a wedge in our relationship.

So when you’re looking to leverage your time by handing off an assignment to someone else, take a couple of extra minutes to clearly communicate what you want accomplished and how you want it completed. On the back side, review any mistakes and discuss ways to improve. I am confident it will be a more beneficial experience all the way around and pay dividends in the future.