Why it is important to set clear expectations with your employees

As a human resource advisor, I am regularly contacted by managers or business owners when staff are not performing, where there is a conflict between two or more staff or even when there is an external complaint and the employer is looking for a way to bring this back on track. Set clear expectations with your employees.

In these situations, I have observed that there is a lack of clear expectations or a need to re-established expectations to ensure best results from the individual and/or the team going forward. 

In the workplace there are many different occasions when managers will need to set, agree and be guided by expectations. Let’s look at how this works?

Types of expectations:

Expectations fall into two main areas:

2. Performance expectations (What you do in your job)

This expectation is the job tasks, the key results and the outcomes that need to be achieved in a particular role.  The job description often describes this, but it is also important to discuss more broadly what is required with the individual (at the commencement of employment and also on an ongoing basis).

2. Behavioural expectations (How you do your job) 

These relate to the expected values, behaviours and attitudes that are required in the role e.g.  quality service, professional behaviour, customer first! 

Keys to effective expectation setting: 

There are 5 key steps to setting clear expectations:

Set expectations that stretch and inspire a job well done!

If your expectations are high (not too high), most employees will work to achieve these expectations and the average performance will go up. Encourage people to be the best they can be.   Always ensure that you set these expectations consistently across the team and allow for employees at each stage of their employment (new – competent – experienced). 

Ensure you are clear on what the expectations are?

This sounds obvious, however, in my experience, very few managers clearly communicate their expectations and why they are important. 

Consider why each of the expectations is important to the overall outcome of the job and the outcome for the business or service. 

Communicate and, wherever possible, agree expectations.

Share the detail of expectations with individual employees or the full team – you can even get their input and feedback.  These discussions will ensure more successful commitment and support from your team, but you should still retain the ultimate right to decide on the final set of expectations that will be applied.

Encourage employees to share their expectations of you.

Expectation setting should be a two-way process so you can encourage your employees to share their expectations with you.  Be prepared to listen and take on board their feedback and offer support as necessary. This will build a level of trust and mutual respect.   

Communicate your expectations often to get the best results. 

To be an effective manager/leader you need to consistently communicate and reinforce your intentions and expectations.   

For example, the need for Quality, Customer Service, Best Practice, Accuracy, Timeliness, Inclusion and Diversity should be communicated at every opportunity including team meetings, performance discussions and coaching conversations.

You will also need to ‘walk the talk’ and show others what the expectation looks like in practice. 

Key messages 

Great businesses are created and maintained by ensuring performance and behavioural expectations are translated into employee day-to-day habits which will promote the environment you are seeking. 

Expect and communicate the best – and more often than not, results and a positive, energised work environment should follow.

If your business is looking for advice on setting expectations or having difficult conversations contact me on [email protected].

Find out more about how we can help you with our human resources team


  • on May 26, 2021