Expectations

A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations
A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations
A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations 1080 721 Jason Lauritsen

In my last post, I shared a story of the consequences that can occur when we aren’t clear on expectations within our work relationships. 

Having clarity within any relationship is vital, and it’s something that we all too often leave to chance. 

I also encouraged you to use the golden rule of management as a means to create clarity: “If it matters, write it down.” 

This is important and powerful—the act of committing things to writing forces clarity. 

But, what if you aren’t sure what matters? 

A life-changing tool.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to connect with Christina Boyd-Smith

Christina is a coach for leaders and teams. I knew I would like her before we even met because her coaching practice is called Corporate Rebel Coaching. What’s not to love about that? 

Over the past several years, I’ve gotten to know and admire Christina. One of the things that I love most about her is that she is truly authentic, and she practices what she preaches.

I wish I’d had her as my coach back in my corporate rebel days, but I’m thrilled to know her now.

Christina introduced me to a process she created called a “Designed Alliance.”

The first time I experienced creating a Designed Alliance was when we kicked off a collaborative project together. 

It was a structured, step-by-step process of walking through some pointed questions that drove us to real clarity about the work we were about to do. It allowed us to move forward with confidence about how we would work together to ensure a positive outcome. 

I was instantly hooked. 

In asking her more about this process, she shared how she uses this personally throughout all parts of her life. They use it as a family when planning a trip. She uses it with her spouse when they are undertaking a project together.

And, she teaches and uses it in her coaching all the time so her clients can take it forward and use it in their work and personal lives as well. 

In essence, it’s a tool to help you focus on what matters and clarify your expectations around those things in any relationship—work or personal.

This process is essentially a list of questions to discuss to help you clarify your expectations about how you will work together and what success will look and feel like. 

Below is a link to download a pdf with instructions and the whole process, so I won’t cover the entire process here.

But, I do want to share a couple of my favorite discussion questions that it includes:  

How do you want it to feel between you and around you during this alliance?

This question is so important and one we rarely discuss. If we are going to do something together, how do we want it to feel? Are we both on the same page at this critical level? 

If you want it to feel easy and laid back while I want it to feel energized and fast-paced, we probably need to talk it through before we start and find some middle ground. 

How do you want to be if things go wrong?

Again, what a great question to discuss before things go wrong. Creating agreements in advance for these situations removes so much angst and tension.

There are a total of eight steps in the process, most of which involve questions to discuss. As you discuss them, you should capture in writing your agreements and shared understanding. 

You can download a pdf of the process from Christina’s site here.

It is a powerful process that I’ve used in both my work and personal life many times. 

But, not often enough. 

When debriefing how the project I described in my last post went wrong, I immediately knew that the outcome would have been entirely different if we’d created a designed alliance. 

All of the hurt and misunderstanding would have been eliminated before we even started. And, we would have had agreements in place for how to handle things when they veered off course.  

It was a powerful reminder of how potent the designed alliance process is. 

I encourage you to download the document and give it a try. It will change your relationships. 

Let me know how it goes. 

 

Related Reading:

I Broke My Own Golden Rule—Here’s What Happened

Clear Expectations = Great Relationships 

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?

Engagement starts with Expectations

if it matters write it down
I Broke My Own Golden Rule—Here’s What Happened
I Broke My Own Golden Rule—Here’s What Happened 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Recently, I collaborated with a friend on a project. It wasn’t a big project, and we weren’t doing it for money. It was more of an exploratory effort that we were both interested in doing, so we decided to do it together.

The two of us have been friends for years but had never done any work together, so it was an exciting opportunity. We jumped right in.  

Over several weeks as the project started coming to its conclusion, my friend shot me a note. In it, she asked for us to do a debrief after it was all over to talk about how everything went. 

It turns out the project wasn’t playing out at all how she had expected. It wasn’t feeling the way she wanted it to feel, and in her eyes, it didn’t feel like a success. 

In hindsight, I went into the project with very few expectations. The biggest reason for me to do it was to work with my friend on something meaningful. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for the two of us to spend some time together creating something cool. It was supposed to be fun and energizing for us both. 

So, when it turned out that it wasn’t a good experience for her, I was heartbroken. I didn’t care nearly as much about the project as I do about her and our relationship. 

And the most frustrating part is that we could have avoided this if I’d only followed my own advice. 

My golden rule 

What went wrong in my project with my friend was a failure to get mutually clear upfront about our expectations—both of the project and one another’s role within the project. 

This shouldn’t be surprising. I preach in my training programs and speeches that a vast majority of performance failures at work result from a lack of clarity about expectations.

The same is true in relationships. When we allow ambiguous or unclear expectations of one another to exist within relationships, the relationship always suffers.

The solution to this problem is what I refer to as my golden rule:

If it matters, write it down. 

Why it matters

When it comes to any relationship, work or personal, to create optimal clarity about the agreements and expectations that matter the most, you need to put them down in writing.  

Notice that I’m not saying “discuss” them or “talk about” them. Sure, discussing your expectations with someone is far better than not discussing them. But I’ve been in far too many discussions over the years where I’ve come away with one understanding and the other person with something completely different. 

When you write something down, the opportunity for misunderstandings and different interpretations narrows dramatically.  

The act of committing our expectations to paper makes the intangible, tangible. Suddenly, we can see the fuzzy gray areas in our expectations of one another and choose to make those parts clear. 

Had my friend and I spent 30 minutes at the beginning of our project calibrating our expectations and writing them down, the project would have been a success on all fronts. 

What should you write down? 

This is probably the first question that comes to mind, particularly if you aren’t in the habit of writing down expectations and agreements. 

At work, if an expectation exists that affects how we feel about or evaluate our work, it should be written down. This could include any number of things:

  • Performance goals

  • Behavioral expectations

  • Team norms or shared agreements

  • Meeting ground rules

  • Purpose and vision

  • Strategic and other plans

  • Project assignments and roles

  • Deadlines

The list could go on. Another trick I’ve found helpful is to write down things that drive you crazy when others do (or don’t do) them or that you find yourself coaching or nudging others about frequently.  

Writing things down can also be incredibly powerful in all aspects of your life. When I coached youth basketball, I wrote down my expectations not just for players, but also for parents to clarify their role and standard of behavior. 

At home, my family went through a Brené-Brown-inspired exercise where we wrote down our family agreements like, “Say you are sorry and mean it” and “Be kind.” 

Taking time to write down expectations moves everyone to clarity far more quickly, which means less friction in the relationship and makes it much more likely that everyone ends up satisfied and happy. 

Clarity fuels accountability

Being clear on expectations not only makes it far more likely that things will happen as expected, but it also sets the stage for mutual accountability. This can be true between two people or across a team (or organization). 

For example, here’s an expectation that was in place for a former team I led: 

“No surprises. Good news or bad news should always be old news.”

This created a bond and expectation within the team to keep each other informed and ensure that if one team member got wind of something that would affect another, they would give them a heads up.  

This mutual expectation affected behavior. It also made it easier to provide feedback and coach when it didn’t happen. 

When someone didn’t get out ahead of something (good or bad) and a teammate got caught off, we could point to the shared expectation. “We agreed to no surprises. What happened here?”

When expectations are clear, accountability follows.  

Why don’t we write it down?

If writing down expectations is so effective, why aren’t more of us doing it regularly?  

There are two main reasons I’ve found—it’s not easy, and it takes time. Clarity requires work and effort. It’s always worth it, but it’s easy to skip.

Also, we’ve gotten good at settling with mediocre outcomes. When things turn out okay (not how we would have hoped, but decent), we settle and move on. What we achieved was good enough to survive and advance to the next thing.

But is good enough what you’re striving for? I’m not talking about perfection here, but I am talking about having the conviction to strive for the best. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle where good enough is the standard because we can accomplish it without doing the hard work to create clarity. 

That’s why so few people or organizations are truly clear on their values and purpose. It takes hard work and an investment of time. 

And, we’re all really busy. Even though some of our busyness is likely due to a lack of clarity caused by unclear expectations, being busy prevents us from doing the work.

This lesson is written in my book, I’ve taught it a bazillion times, yet I skipped right over it on the project with my friend and suffered the consequences. I can’t do anything to change that now, but I can use this reminder to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future.  

I hope you’ll do the same. Write it down. 

 

Related Reading:

Clear Expectations = Great Relationships 

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?

Engagement starts with Expectations

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Clear Expectations = Great Relationships
Clear Expectations = Great Relationships
Clear Expectations = Great Relationships 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Getting my family loaded in the car before a road trip of any length is a stressful event at our house.  On account of having small children, the process is like packing up an entire circus to move it to the next town.  There’s a lot to be done, a lot to remember.  And, historically, my wife and I would both get a little short with each other before we finally made it in the car to leave.

Eventually, what we discovered was that both of us would start this circus moving process with an estimated time of departure in mind but we weren’t communicating to each other what time we were each individually working towards (and almost invariably, the times were at least a little different).

This lack of communication was causing a lot of added stress to the process and once we realized what was happening, we changed our tact by agreeing to a target time before we started packing.  I’m not going to tell you that the process is stress-free now, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be.

When relationships break down, it’s frequently due to a failure between the parties to communicate expectations clearly. Marriages, manager/employee, parent/child, friendships, and even family relationships all work best when the expectations are abundantly clear. This sounds so simple, but as you’ve probably found in your own life, it’s not simple at all.

Getting clear on expectations isn’t as simple as saying, “This is what I expect.” That is simply stating expectations.

When expectations work the best, both parties have heard, understood, and taken ownership of the expectations for the relationship. Creating and sharing expectations in this way creates a contract between two people that has real meaning. Great relationships are shared when two people consistently live up to each other’s expectations and occasionally exceed them. Without the expectations, the relationship doesn’t have the boundaries it needs to be healthy.

To create great relationships through expectations requires some key things:

Courage

Speaking your expectations out loud to another person can feel daunting. You can’t be sure how the other person is going to react, particularly if the expectation is new or hasn’t been communicated in the past.

And, what if the other person doesn’t agree with your expectation? That leads to conflict and we all like to avoid conflict.

However, it’s in this conflict that we have the conversations that lead to clarity, to shared ownership. So, the first step is moving beyond your fear and doubts so that you can find the needed conflict to create clarity.

Patience

True clarity of expectations comes over time, particularly with new relationships. Think of the times when you had a new manager or supervisor. If you were lucky enough to find a manager who took the time to set expectations up front, you probably didn’t fully understand those expectations for months or even years afterward.

As an example, “be on time” with one manager could mean “don’t be late,” but with another manager, that same phrase could mean, “be 10 minutes early.”

In my experience, we have a tendency to lose patience with the expectations conversation long before getting to a place of clarity and mutual ownership. No matter how frustrating it becomes, stay with it until you arrive at a place where both parties are clear.

Thoughtfulness

Many times, we aren’t sure of our expectations until someone fails to meet them.

For example, I’ve always been motivated to learn, so I would leap at any opportunity through work to learn, whether it be training, a book club, or other development experience. And, for years, I thought everyone else was motivated the same way. I didn’t communicate to my people that I expected them to take advantage of every learning opportunity available to them.

I used to get really frustrated when I found myself managing a person who didn’t care about these types of experiences.

It took me developing some self-awareness before I recognized the need to communicate this expectation.

Creating clarity of expectations isn’t a one-time process, it’s ongoing communication. Expectations emerge, grow and change over time and we need to pay close attention to this process.

Becoming great at creating clarity of expectations will improve the quality of every relationship in your life. It’s not easy, it’s not simple, and it can be messy at timesparticularly when expectations are out of alignment.

Engaging in the conversations to create this alignment is one of the most important things you can do for the important relationships in your life.