Implied Expectations

What are they and why are they dangerous
for you and your organization?

Often, I hear employees talk about “implied expectations.” This phrase typically comes up when a person doesn’t meet your expectations, and you are surprised and even disappointed.

I hear many people say things like “I can’t believe he missed that, he must have known it was part of the job,” or “with his experience, I expected him to know what to do,” or “he has the title and pay, so he really should really know how to do the job.” Each of these comments suggests an implied, unspoken expectation.

An implied expectation is the belief that, because a person claims some education or experience, he will understand your expectations without you needing to explain them. Sometimes it is true that you share similar expectations. But, in my experience, it is far more common that you have a personal picture of “good” actions and results that you need to explain and discuss.

Implied expectations carry a serious risk. Unclear expectations are the leading cause of off-track performance. In addition to creating confusion, unclear expectations weaken employees’ commitment to the organization, because they don’t see a clear path to their own success. As a result, the organization is at risk for delays, errors, re-work, and a host of other problems that damage customer satisfaction and reduce profitability.

Fortunately, the solution is simple and straightforward – never trust implied expectations.
• First, create a simple, written description of your expectations – what results, any critical actions, any boundaries not to cross
• Second, share and discuss your picture – is the person confused or concerned, does he have questions about his skills or available resources, does he have any conflicts with other goals?
• Finally, test the person’s capability and commitment – can he describe your expectation, does he have a few good first steps, is he willing to take on this expectation on and complete it?

With these few, simple steps you can move away from “implied expectations” forever, and significantly increase performance and employee satisfaction.


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