Moving Forward with Expectations

Let’s talk for a minute about expectations.

The dictionary defines expect as things that we look forward to, consider likely or certain, consider reasonable or due, consider obligatory, or presume.

In other words, expectations are things that we desire to have happen in the future.

In the workplace, we have an idea in our heads of what we want another person to do. Generally, this is pretty clear: we have a concrete task or set of tasks we expect the person to perform, producing a specific result. There are also components of the way the person performs the tasks, and the way that the person interacts with others during the performance of the tasks. These are, perhaps, a little more nebulous, but they are relatively logical and obvious.

The challenge is that expectations do no good when they are just thoughts in our heads. They have to be communicated to others – a process that literally puts the entire expectation into another person’s head. And that process of communication must result in a fundamentally similar expectation, or the person is unlikely to perform the tasks in the way we expect.

Expectations are an interchange element, and like all interchanges they have content – the thing being conveyed – and form – the organizational description of how that thing moves between people. Expectations take many forms. The organizational transfer begins in the application process in what the organization is looking for, upon hiring in the form of training and position descriptions, and through the performance management system as formal feedback. These are how leadership transfers expectations. Expectations are also conveyed from other group members through informal rewards and punishments. All of t