Expectation Setting helps build Trust

The manner in which a manager takes a decision on some of the discretionary authorities vested on him or her is closely watched by everyone in the team. Sometimes, it causes confusion and mistrust among the team members. Setting right expectations with the team members can go a long way in avoiding such situations. Setting the expectations only once may not work and the manager is better off reinforcing the expectations at regular intervals.

Let me take the example of the policy of ‘working from home’ which has been around for some time and more and more companies are implementing it. While the policy details could differ significantly across organizations, one thing that is more or less consistent is the fact that it is a privilege and managers have discretionary powers to allow or disallow the same.

I have seen many managers struggling to control the number of people working from home while the need of the hour is increased face time between the team members. Everyone tends to quote a preceding decision taken by the manager while justifying why they should work from home. Afraid of being perceived as partial to some employees, managers tend to give in to the demands of employees.

First time I saw a manager setting expectations with his team members had such a great impression on me that I myself have repeated this several times with my teams. In one of the staff meetings, the manger opened the discussion like this:

I want to talk about some of the discretionary authority I have. I want to ensure you understand the company policy, the decision making authority I have and the broad thinking process I will apply while deciding on the implementation of these policies.

First, let me talk about Working from Home policy. As per the company policy it is manager’s discretion to allow any employee to work from home or any remote location.

 I want all of us to understand that it is a privilege given to us and it is not an entitlement. The privilege can be withdrawn if there is an urgency in the office or there is problem related to performance.

Default rule is we all come to office and we come on time. However, if someone has a late night meeting, he or she can come late to office but rest of the team needs to know when he or she is coming to office.

Similarly if someone needs to work from home for any personal reason, whether ad-hoc or any particular day of the week, then I need to know what that reason is and I will take a call depending on the nature of the reason and the situation we have in office. My decisions can be different for the same personal reason if the situation in the office is different.”

He went on to set expectations on how he is going to operate on each and every discretionary power he has. He explained the general rules he is going to operate on. He also explained the situations when he may not be very transparent because he might need to take care of some confidentiality.

Initially the team members were bit apprehensive. They thought the manager was being bureaucratic and trying to implement unnecessary rules. Over time, when they saw the manager operating under the principals on a consistent basis, they felt the manager was being more transparent than bureaucratic.

Setting expectations work well in different aspects of our professional life. A well-defined set of expectations can be a good starting point of discussion and win-win negotiations with customers, management team and employees, where each party is aware of the principals and guidelines under which the other party is operating. It increases trust and predictability.