By: Phillip Bogdanovich
This post is the first in a three-part series about the importance of expectation management, focusing on teams and employees. Parts two and three will cover customer expectation management and self-imposed expectation management.
Anyone who has led a team or run a company has felt the importance of team expectation management. Regardless of how much talent a team has, a shitstorm of poor customer service, power struggles, and/or decreased work productivity will ensue without a clear, uniform understanding of how actions and outcomes are measured and rewarded (or disciplined). In my experience, team expectation management is most critical for the issues of compensation, chain of command, and employee autonomy. If you can establish and disseminate explicit guidelines for these, you will go a long way toward creating a thriving business.
Managing employee expectations about compensation (including salary, equity, bonuses, sales quotas and goals, etc.) does two things: it keeps them engaged, and it reinforces their responsibilities.
Lack of clarity, especially about money, quickly makes a company appear unstable to its employees. Even career start-up professionals don’t want to be a part of an unstable ecosystem. When people don’t know how much money they make or “surprises” occur on payday, they become disengaged, hostile, unmotivated, and a bunch of other adjectives you don’t want to apply to your team. It’s on you to clearly and concisely explain and provide in writing your employees’ compensation package. Communicate as much information as possible about compensation. And then, of course, uphold what you communicate.
Explicit compensation arrangements also underscore employee responsibility: “You are responsible for X in exchange for Y.” This sort of clarity can help qualify why so much (or so little) work is expected.
Chain of Command
I approach workplace chain of command the same way special operations units and small tactical teams approach it. Every person on the team knows who the leader is and who is responsible for what. The medic is responsible for Y; the communications specialist is responsible for Z, and so on.
Beyond knowing what everyone else on the team does, each team member also knows (at least at a basic level), how to do it. The medic can run coms effectively and the coms guy can perform basic medical tasks. This arrangement means that if a task requires more attention than is typical, all team members are capable of assisting. If someone is sick, any member of the team can pick up the slack and perform the required tasks adequately.
In a start-up environment, this kind of flexibility and nimbleness is critical—most start-ups can’t afford to be out of commission if one team member becomes unavailable. And even if you approach your chain of command this way, there’s no guarantee of success. You must establish and adhere to best practice protocols for each role within the team, and standardization of process is critical. If cross training occurs regularly and review/revision occurs as a matter of practice, this org structure is scalable and can include multiple teams.
Micromanagement ruins Christmas. It’s wildly ineffective and employees hate it. They begin to assume that they have no control over their environment and that they lack the ability to make any sort of critical decision, an assumption that decreases productivity and stifles development. It’s impossible to take responsibility for (or be fairly held accountable for) something you don’t have the power to change.
Here’s where expectation management comes in: If compensation and org structure are clearly defined, there should be no issue with allowing your employees to own and solve challenges inherent to their daily work. This approach cultivates pride through the freedom of self-governance and allows employees to take responsibility and ownership of their space, processes, and decisions. Eventually this freedom will lead to better communication throughout the team and a more collaborative environment.
Clear compensation, an explicit chain of command, and professional freedom create the framework in which small companies can thrive. Team members are empowered to make decisions quickly and communicate collaboratively whenever possible. They understand the hierarchy and their roles within the team. Instead of being micromanagers or roadblocks, leaders are free to provide the extra support, direction, or muscle their employees need to complete tasks effectively. The entire team becomes focused on mission success—and it will be obvious if any team members do not embrace the team vision. Clear communication and expectation management aren’t about pandering to employees or telling them what to do. They’re about providing an environment and framework in which everyone has the greatest chance to thrive and contribute to the common goal.