S.P.E.L.L. it Out. 6 Ways to Set Expectations.

Spelling out expectations is so critical in all aspects of life; like when you have a new employee, when your child cleans their room and, even when we start on a new project.  If you don’t spell out the expectations, it will, at the very least be frustrating and at its worst, an epic fail.  I see this step being skipped constantly.  Why bother?  Shouldn’t your child know what the expectations for a clean room are?  Didn’t we hire that employee because they were the most qualified for the job?  Haven’t you accomplished other projects?  You will be doomed for disappointment without clarifying expectations.

I can imagine that if we did a poll of one hundred parents about their expectations for room cleanliness that we would find at least 80 different sets of expectations (this assumes that some of those poled are married and have already had a few grumbles about room cleanliness and, therefore, have the same expectations).  The point is, you cannot assume that we would all agree about what a clean bedroom is.  And we certainly cannot assume that your child has the same standards.

Your child gets grounded because they didn’t realize that stuffing all the toys under the bed does not mean “clean”.  You’re disappointed in the home improvement project because you didn’t realize that fixtures you really wanted were five times more expensive.

So how do you avoid the tendency to think that everyone knows your expectations through osmosis and get down to the nitty gritty before you send that new employee off into battlefield of ambiguous work standards?  Here are a few steps.

1. Reflect. What do you want?  What does the perfect outcome look like?  You need to be clear with yourself and/or the team before you set your new employee a drift.  Why did we have to hire someone new?  Did the last customer service rep go down in flames because he didn’t know that the schedule was completely inflexible?    As they say, history tends to repeat, so reflect on what went wrong (or right) the last time.

2. Anticipate. When I send my husband to the grocery store for milk, you might think that is a very basic, simple item for him to purchase.  Well, it isn’t.  I need to anticipate who will be opening that refrigerator door for the next seven days.  If it’s my daughter, it better be soy milk.  If it’s my son, it better be organic skim milk.  If my husband is the intended user, it better be 2% lactose free milk.  Simple item.  Complex expectations.

3. List. It’s a good idea to have a list; whether it be a written checklist, employee manual or just a short mental checklist. “Benson”, that’s my son, “a clean room means clean clothes hung up or folded and put away, the bed being made and no items on the floor”.  In my days as a Sizzler restaurant owner, we had a pre-meal checklist for each meal period.  It was important that even the temperature ranges for the food was spelled out.  Soup < 145 degrees.

4. Engage.  Have a conversation.  It might even be a lecture.  But explain your list.  As in, the soup needs to be over 145 degrees because we don’t want anyone getting sick.  The bed needs to be made because we are having visitors this weekend.  We need personal phone calls kept to a minimum because we have a limited amount of incoming phone lines.  Explain the rationale.  It makes for more buy in.

5. Clarify.  There may be a deadline.  There might be a budget.  There may be other resources.  If the grandparents are arriving at 6 PM, this might be important information when my husband heads out for milk at 5 PM.  The new employee might want to know who else on the team has done this job so they have them as a crutch.  S.P.E.L.L. it all out.

6. Rinse and Repeat. Unfortunately, this is not a one shot deal.  It can be time consuming and tedious.  It was obvious which Sizzler restaurant was not using its pre-meal checklist.  And it usually translated into lower sales.  The customers had expectations.

Take the time and energy to S.P.E.L.L. out your expectations.  It will save you frustration, time and energy.  It will also keep your relationships on a higher plane.  Those around you will appreciate knowing what to expect.

What would you do?

Setting Expectations

Last week’s post was looking back over the past year to craft an annual performance review; perhaps even more critical than that is setting expectations for the coming year.  This may be for yourself (I’m finally going to pay off that credit card), for your assistant (he’s going to be an Excel ninja by May) or for your family (Disney in 2013 or bust!).  These can be called development plans, business plans, goals, intentions, metrics, departmental vision statements…it’s all pretty much the same thing.  We all need a plan. images 6

Your family isn’t going to get to Disney unless you’ve outlined a few things.  When can you go?  How are we going to get there?  How much do we want to spend?  How much can we afford to spend? What do we want to see when we get there?  All of this requires research, discussion, cooperation and planning.  Your family can’t decide today to go to Disney tomorrow.  It’s going to take a plan.  The same is true in getting your assistant to be an Excel ninja by May.

So how do we go about planning and setting expectations? Here are a few ideas:

1. Reflection.  Take some time to reflect.  This might sound crazy when you have technology and commitments fire hosing you all day.  It’s hard to make a plan if you don’t close the door, turn off your notifications, take a deep breath and reflect. The stage of your prefrontal cortex is so full of actors, it’s important to sweep the stage, send the actors to lunch and let your grey matter get some breathing room.

2. Storm.  Brainstorm some ideas.  Dump it all on paper. Disney. Sea World. Busch Gardens. Grand Canyon.  Las Vegas. The Moon.  There are no bad ideas.  You can eliminate ideas after the fact.  Afraid of heights? Grand Canyon. Allergic to fish? Sea World. You get the idea.  Dump first and then eliminate.  What about your direct report? Excel training, Powerpoint class, karate retreat, Outlook seminar.  Get a manageable list of options and then move on to the next step.

3. Collaborate.  Sit down with the family, the direct report or your partner.  Go over your list of ideas.  Get some feedback.  Ask for help.  Get on the same page.  If your spouse hates gambling, nix Vegas.  Your kids have been to Disney twice and want to try out their Spanish, add Cozumel to the list.  If your assistant really wants to try their hand at Access instead of Excel; on the list it goes.

4. Align.  Now we have to figure out what aligns with the family budget, the corporate mission or your long term plan.  If the corporate plan is to move to a different platform from Access, we may need to investigate other platforms.  If we really want to be able to purchase a new home this year and need to keep costs to a minimum, we may just want to drive to Miami, stay at a friends place and test our Spanish out on South Beach.  Make sure the expectations align with the long term goals.

5. Resources.  What’s available to make this happen?  Do you have an internal expert on Access?  Did your colleague just send their assistant to Access training last year?  Do some research on best practices.  If you want to increase customer satisfaction by year end, what do you measure now that you can use for a baseline for next year.  Or what can you create.  Is your car going to make it Miami?  Does your swimsuit still fit?  Sometimes the investment into a different, seemingly less expensive goal can out weigh the original goal.  Make sure you know the resources available.

6. Memorialize.  Put pen to paper.  Write down what you have agreed to and how you are going to measure success.  Need to have $2,000 saved by June for the trip in August.  Your assistant needs to select an Access class to take by March 15th and to complete it by June 15th.  Spell out what the plan is.  Make sure we all have a copy.  Writing it down creates a greater commitment.

7. Check points.  I frequently drive to Charlotte, NC.  I know that there is a rest area right outside of Greensboro which is about half way.  It’s my checkpoint.  My feedback.  Even if I don’t need the facilities, it’s a mental checkpoint of my progress.  When working on performance goals or planning the family trip, make sure you check in with each other to see how progress is.  Hotel reservations? Budget on track?  Class signed up for? Customer service scores going up?  Project started?  Don’t set up a plan and leave everyone in the dark.  Set up some check points.

Arriving at your final destination is what it’s all about.  If you want to get from Point A to Point B, you’re going to need a plan.  If you don’t have a business plan, or don’t have buy in from your assistant, or haven’t collaborated with your family, it’s likely to fall flat.  Don’t head out aimlessly, make sure you have planned your goal and communicated your expectations.