“We have found that by reaching for what appears to be the impossible, we often actually do the impossible; and even when we don’t quite make it, we inevitably wind up doing much better than we would have done.” -Jack Welch
Oftentimes, leaders set high expectations for their organizations and their employees in order to maintain relevance and maximize potential. However, many leaders wind up expressing disappointment and frustration when those expectations aren’t met. Why do so many well-intentioned leaders have employees who consistently fall short of or fail to adhere to expectations?
In our experience, leaders need to first look at the priority they place on accountability. All too often, there is a great deal of effort placed on setting expectations and very little follow through. Once an employee sees that expectations are simply words on a piece of paper, that’s exactly how they treat them.
The desire to adhere to expectations is low because the willingness or priority that leadership places on enforcing expectations is equally low. We’ve seen a similar parallel with an organization’s core values. Typically, an employee can recite at least one or two of the organization’s values. Yet, when pressed for more insight as to how those core values are lived out within the organization, or essentially the behaviors that illustrate those values; employees struggle to respond. Conversely, when an organization places a higher priority on their values, it is immediately apparent in every aspect of their operations.
In addition to making both the setting and enforcing of expectations a priority, there are several other things a leader can do to ensure not only high expectations, but high adherence.
Ensure the expectations are clear. Leaders cannot assume employees understand an expectation. They should find ways for employees to show they understand.
Communicate early and often. Adherence cannot be accomplished with a set it and forget it approach. Making the enforcement of expectations a priority means introducing, explaining, and reiterating expectations; as often as necessary.
Gain employee consensus. Don’t misunderstand this one. This is not the employee approving or endorsing the expectation. Rather, consensus means they understand the expectation and agree to adhere to it. This is also not to say they won’t encounter challenges. When they do, leaders should discuss those challenges and develop a plan for how to overcome them. Blatant refusal or ignorance is a different issue, but one that needs to be addressed immediately as well.
We submit that the problem of low adherence to expectations isn’t necessarily with the type of expectations set, but whether or not communication, reiteration and accountability are important enough to remain at the forefront of one’s leadership.