Have you ever felt like your workdays were full of completing mundane tasks with no clear understanding of the leader’s expectations? Well, you are not alone. Gallup research reveals that less than half of employees know what leaders and managers expect of them. Another thought-provoking finding from Gallup research is that there are even some managers who are unclear about their expectations. If managers are uncertain, how can the information be disseminated to employees?
Leaders are ultimately responsible for setting expectations, effectively communicating those expectations, and developing accountability standards. Not only are leaders responsible for setting clear expectations, but those expectations must be realistic. Metaphorically speaking, unrealistic expectations are equivalent to running on a hamster’s wheel, going nowhere fast. This parallel is valid for workplaces, where employees with no expectations and accountability are completing repetitive and unfulfilling tasks that produce zero to minimal growth. This type of behavior leads to disengagement and is toxic to any organization.
One of the first steps to getting off the hamster wheel is for leaders to commit to rearranging priorities and leaving the day-to-day operation to department managers or supervisors. Some leaders are so entangled in fighting the daily battles that they lose sight of the organization’s strategic vision. Executing strategic initiatives no longer is a priority, but stressing over minor issues takes precedence over the organization’s growth. Yes, there are times when leaders must step in, but there should be a level of trust that the managers and supervisors hired to fight those battles can do their assigned jobs. Theodore Roosevelt gave a powerful lesson in leadership when he said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
When leaders take their hands off the daily operations, their focus can shift to getting their entire team back on track by setting realistic expectations. Once expectations are defined, then the culture of accountability must be shaped. A culture of accountability influences behaviors, but if not clearly defined, employees are all working but to the beat of their drum. Accountability is the first step that helps employees evolve and align their behaviors with the organization’s values and expectations. For employees’ actions to change positively, leaders must proactively set accountability standards instead of reactively setting standards after a total meltdown within the organization. As employees embrace accountability, engagement will follow.
So, how can a culture of clear expectations and accountability be cultivated? It all begins with leadership, those in authority within the organization. If leaders are not sure of the organization’s expectations, culture, and vision, they cannot expect their employees to exert the effort to meet expectations. Leaders must strategically develop expectations for each job level and then communicate, model, and build commitment around their vision of how employees will meet those expectations.
But what hinders leaders from making changes to cultivate a culture of expectations and accountability? Fear of failure can prevent leaders from making changes in the organization that promotes growth. Fear of failure is a normal response for anyone taking on new challenges, and can be debilitating, which can cause more harm than good. Some leaders have been in their positions for so long and know every regulation, policy, and procedure, but have forgotten what it means to set expectations and engage with employees. Is this a bad thing? I would say no, only if those leaders are willing to put forth the effort to change and undergo formal training and continuous coaching to effectively fulfill these steps.
The Beginning of Buy-In
As leaders create an environment that fosters realistic and clear performance goals, positive performance outcomes, and valuable outcomes, the buy-in process begins. Employees will start to buy into changes within the organization when they feel the expectations are clear, accountability is measurable, and feedback is a priority. Leaders should not expect these changes to occur overnight. However, consistently integrating a culture of expectation and accountability in every new product launch, service to members, strategic planning session, team meeting, coaching session, and daily interaction, leaders are bound to see a positive shift in employee behaviors. There is a trickle-down effect that becomes contagious. Every employee who is vying for positive change within the organization will begin to shift from the “we have done it like this for so long” mentality to proactively engaging in expanding their mindset to growth possibilities.
Communication Cultivates Change
Communication is also vital in cultivating the desired culture. A continuous dialog of employee expectations encourages an engaged workforce, which brings about a sense of belonging to the organization. Transparent communication between leaders and employees that aligns with the goals and expectations brings about trust. When employees trust their leaders, the cultivation of the desired culture begins, which increases engagement and productivity.
Accountability and communication go hand in hand because if expectations are unclear, leaders cannot hold employees accountable. Not only is communicating expectations important, but verbalizing the consequences of poor behavior and reinforcement of positive actions emphasizes the accountability standards in place. Establishing and effectively using the proper communication channels helps clear up communication gaps that may hinder progress.
Providing employees with several communication channels to hear from leaders and voice opinions benefits all involved. Upward, downward, diagonal, and horizontal communication creates an open dialog between leaders and employees and across and among departments. During downward communication, leaders are disseminating ideas, goals, feedback, and strategies and explaining the why behind decisions made. Employees can then take the information and engage in upward communication, which allows them to communicate to managers about how they feel about the required expectations. Peer to peer communication happens during horizontal communication, which promotes a sense of camaraderie among employees in the same department. Diagonal communication gives employees, in different departments, an avenue to encourage informal conversations between different parts of the organization. Open communication, when adequately disseminated, despite the channel, empowers employees to present ideas without the fear of repercussion and leaves no room for excuses.
Coach Employees to be Accountable
With expectations and accountability standards communicated, leaders must now coach employees to be accountable. Coaching empowers and helps transform the mindset and shifts employees’ attitudes to encourage behaviors that align with the new culture of the organization. During this process, coaches guide employees and give them the tools necessary to enhance skills, competency, and performance. However, coaching is not always easy, especially when some employees are not willing to change and do not accept feedback. Leaders should be prepared to address those behaviors by communicating the need for change, genuinely attempting to understanding what motivates those employees, introducing changes gradually, and determining whether the job fits the employee’s skill set. When coaching commences, and workplace standards are defined, leaders gain commitment. To maintain commitment, one key point to remember is that coaching must be ongoing and integrated into every aspect of the organization to prevent leaders and employees from slipping back into old habits.
Equipped and Empowered
After following these steps, leaders must hold themselves accountable, not only in words but in action, and continue to equip, empower, energize, and expect employees to meet and exceed expectations. Equipping and empowering gives employees the authority to do everything in their power to accomplish goals. Ongoing coaching helps to energize employees and gives them the necessary boost to forge ahead. And finally, because leaders have given employees the tools to be successful, the expectation is for employees to strive for excellence.
Maya Angelou once said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”