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Setting Expectations: A Quick Tip for People Managers

Setting Expectations: A Quick Tip for People Managers

There’s a lot a manager can do to improve their working relationship with individual employees, and this isn’t something I can cover entirely in one post; I do, though, want to give you all an easy first step in the process, and that’s having a one-on-one discussion about work style preferences. I always ask employees to do a work inventory consisting of a few questions about their work styles, including other things I should know as their manager. I ask them to write responses prior to a one-on-one meeting, giving them time to really think through the questions. We then have an open discussion on how we can best work together.

[Related: Make Your Team a Place People Want to Work]

Now, asking the questions is the easy part; how you have the conversation with your employee is where the real relationship starts to build. When you approach these conversations, you have to keep a few things in mind – You must be OK with being vulnerable and willing to compromise. This conversation is for both of you to grow with each other and that means you need to be able to accept their perspective and experience and work together to develop an agreed upon shared set of expectations.

I suggest you sit down with the same questions and ask yourself how you’d respond. What is non-negotiable and why is it not negotiable? Then think about where you can be flexible. Walking through this exercise will ensure you’re prepared to explain why you expect things a specific way and when to blend your work styles together.

For example, one thing I always expect of my employees is that they update me on the progress of their projects and immediately notify me of any issues or roadblocks that come up. I know that this can be perceived as trying to micromanage their work, so I take this opportunity to explain how these updates help me be a better advocate for them among colleagues, leadership, and partners. I also share a story of a past experience to better articulate how and when this could come up within our work. It’s important to explain that I trust they know what to do to be successful and when to ask for help, and I promise not to intervene unless I’ve had a conversation with them first. Laying this out upfront helps me be not just a better advocate for my employees, but also gives me the chance to explain what I expect and why it’s important to our relationship, rather than them resenting me because they think I am trying to micromanage their work. This builds trust on both sides of the relationship.

An extra bonus is that it also sets you up to work with people who not only look and think differently than you, but who also come from various generations and experiences. When you have these conversations, you are learning about each other and blending perspectives and experiences, rather than making someone fit in to what works best for you.

[Related: 5 Easy Things You Can Do to be a Better Manager]

Now, I assume you’re all thinking, “OK what are these magical questions you use?”. I’ll first say they are not magical, and they’ll seem very simple and superficial when you first read them; however, from my experience, most employees have never been asked these questions before or never thought about what they actually prefer. I also adjust what I ask over time based on things I’ve learned from others or feedback from those I’ve worked with. I suggest you pick questions that best fit you and will help you learn what you need to know to build a successful relationship with your employees.

Suggested Work Inventory Questions:

  • How do you like to receive praise? Feedback?
  • What motivates you and your work?
  • What skills you are looking to improve? Or what areas are you hoping to learn about or want to be exposed to within our work?
  • How do you do best or prefer to communicate: phone, email, in person? And what do you consider strong communication?
  • What do you look for in a successful relationship with your supervisor? What does communication look like in this relationship? What expectations do you have for your supervisors?
  • Explain a time when you felt devalued at work; what lead you to feeling that way?
  • Explain a time when you felt valued or successful at work; what lead you to feeling that way?

Add a fun one at the end:

  • What’s one thing in the city you have on your bucket list to do?
  • What was your dream job when you were a kid?

[Related: You’ve Just Become a Manager! Now What?]


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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