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  • Vanessa Barajas, MPH

Setting Clear Expectations

One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to establish expectations. After all, if you don’t show your team what success looks like, they may never figure out what it takes to succeed within your organization and team. A global study conducted by Gallup revealed that 50% of employees don’t know what’s expected of them in their job.

When it comes to setting expectations we often undermine our best intentions by falling prey to three common communication assumptions. First, we assume we are making ourselves clear, second we assume that we were understood, finally we assume it's the other person's job to understand and interpret what we are saying and what we expect of them.

Setting clear expectations for each specific role, and what success looks like for your team as a whole, is something we should communicate upfront and consistently. As Brene Brown says, “clear is kind.”

Clarity around what’s expected when it comes to behaviors and outputs:

  • Helps your team members focus on what they should be doing (and perhaps more importantly what they shouldn’t be doing)

  • Prevents high-performing team members from having to pick up the slack

  • Reduces frustration and passive resentment within your team

  • Enables your team to track their progress as they work toward their goals

When onboarding a new team member, starting a new project, or even when you’re assigning specific tasks, the GETSET model is a helpful tool. Each letter in the acronym is a checklist for you as their leader to tick off before leaving your team members to their own devices. With a clear idea of what success looks like, there’s less chance of things coming unstuck later.

Get clear:

First, get clear yourself on what success would look like if they were completing this role or task effectively. What would we see? How would you know? Are there any subtasks, information or steps that they need to make sure they’re clear on their objectives and responsibilities? You cannot set clear expectations if the outcome is still unclear to you. Half-baked ideas lead to poor communication, unclear expectations, and your eventual misplaced frustration.


Be explicit when it comes to outputs and behaviors. As a leader, it's your job to think through the outcomes and understand what you need your teammates to provide. If you take the extra 15 minutes to consider what you need and how they can best assist in realizing that goal you will save yourself countless hours of frustration. “Be organized” doesn’t cut it – it’s too vague to be helpful. “Send through the meeting agenda a day in advance” is much better – it’s an explicit action that your team members know to follow.


Even if these expectations are stated in the job description, walk your team members through them again when they’re coming on board. Ask them about what tasks they feel more or less confident about completing and offer the opportunity for them to tell you anything they’re unsure about. This should be a two-way conversation. Make it safe for them to be upfront with you about where they might need extra help. This gives you both an indication of where your support is needed.


It's easy to think that because you said something that the other person knows what you meant. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. One of the simplest ways to know what someone heard is to ask them to share back to you what they understood. Ask open-ended wrap-up questions that help them restate what their action items are following the meeting. This is your opportunity to clarify deadlines, details, and ensure you are on the same page. For bonus points you could have your team member send you a short follow up email documenting the agreed upon expectations. This way the expectations are written down, agreed on, and no longer open to interpretation or misunderstanding. This also gives you one more opportunity to correct any lingering misunderstandings.


Believe that your team CAN succeed. Offer them loads of encouragement and positive feedback as they go along. Catch them doing well and show them that you believe in them.


Agree with team members up front how you’re all going to monitor performance. How will we know when we have succeeded? What will we measure? At what intervals will you check in together to see how they’re going?

Expectations and goals should be active conversations between a leader and those they lead – and the more conversations upfront we have, the less likely you’ll have issues later on. Using the GETSET model can help you do this.

The lack of clearly understood expectations is the source of much strife in relationships, the cause of most conflicts, and the beginning of poor organizational performance. As leaders, we must strive to build clear expectations throughout our organizations, and it must start with us.

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