Setting Expectations

Excerpt from モITメS YOUR BUSINESS: 183 Essential Tips That Will Transform Your Small Businessヤ by JJ Ramberg, with Lisa Everson and Frank Silverstein (Business Plus, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, 2012).

In her recent book “IT’S YOUR BUSINESS,” JJ Ramberg, host of the MSNBC program, Your Business,shares tips she’s gathered from six years of interviews with business owners across the country, and from running her own company, Her book features many tips that could be instrumental in training, including the following:

TIP #61: Have “expectations meetings” with your employees.

Once a year, set time aside to have a one?on?one “expectations meeting” with each of your employees. This is not a review and should not be included in a review. Rather than a place to discuss strengths and weaknesses, it’s simply a conversation between you and your employee about what you two should expect out of each other in your working relationship.

Bruce Sellery, founder of Moolala, in Calgary, Canada, says this meeting gives everyone a chance to communicate what they expect of one another, and, even more important, creates a touchstone that both parties can return to when issues arise. So, for example, as the boss, you can set the expectation about work hours in an initial meeting. Then, if someone comes in late, it’s easy for you to refer back to your conversation and say in a nonthreatening manner that they are not living up to the expectations you discussed. It’s a way to take the emotion out of issues and deal with them professionally.

On the flip side, expectations meetings give your employees a way to address issues with you that may otherwise be uncomfortable for them. For example, if you told your employees they should expect clear communication from you and they feel they aren’t getting it, they can come to you and say, “Remember in our expectations meeting when we talked about communication? I’m finding some things unclear.”

Note 1: Here are some questions you can address in your meeting. Keep in mind, these questions are asking for your employee’s opinions, but they can serve as a starting point for you to talk about your expectations.

1. What do you want to get out of this job or assignment?

This allows you to start a clear conversation about both your and your employee’s goals.

2. What are some of the things you value in a working relationship?

This allows you to understand how to best work with each other.

3. What kind of feedback do you find most helpful—written, verbal, immediately after a project or weekly?

Note 2: Be sure to write down everything that gets discussed in these meetings. Both you and your employee should walk away with a copy.

Watch out! Your employee may ask for some things you cannot deliver. If it’s something you wish you could do, or feel like you should do (even if you know you won’t), you may be tempted to say you will. That’s a mistake. Don’t promise something you won’t be able to deliver.

TIP #69: Set expectations high from the start.

From day one, you must make it clear that you expect employees to do their very best work for you. I learned to do this early on from a woman I worked with at during my first job after business school. Whenever anyone new who worked under her would hand in their first project, she would ask them, “Do you think this is absolutely complete and your best work?” She then would give the employee a chance to go back and fix their work (if it needed fixing). The key to making this effective is that she would not look at the work before asking the question. That way it never came off as criticism. It was simply a question—and a strong signal that she did not want to take the time to review anything that was halfway done. And if someone said they wanted a couple more hours to look things over, she was happy to give it to them. Letting her direct reports know right from the start that she wanted top-?notch work ensured that people were challenged to do their best. Everyone loved working for her because she set the bar high and supported people in reaching it.

Watch out! There is a very fine line between encouraging good work and being condescending. And it’s all in the delivery. A condescending attitude from you will surely make your employees resent you. And it’s important to let them know you don’t expect perfection, you just want the best work they can do. That’s only fair.

TIP #172: Document your processes.

We like to call this the “What if someone gets hit by a bus” tip. Basically, do you have the systems in place to continue work if someone can’t come in? Do you know where all their work is kept and how it’s organized? Most of us don’t. But we should. 

Case study: Justin Hong is the managing partner of Los Angeles-based Highly Relevant, an Internet marketing firm specializing in search engine optimization (SEO). He says when they first started up, there were only two people on their team who knew how to implement their SEO strategies, and if they didn’t execute the projects themselves or tell other people what to do, their entire business came to a standstill.

In 2011, Justin and his team decided to lay out every single step in their SEO process, documenting every detail of the process in both text and video. Suddenly, members of the

team who were not as well versed in putting together these campaigns could go through step by step and execute one. In other words, they didn’t need to wait for those two people.

In addition, they found an unexpected benefit to creating these documents. Looking at the process closely allowed the team to identify certain steps that either could be outsourced or executed by people other than their core team. This allowed them to free up their own time to work on more high-?value tasks, such as meeting with prospects, developing business relationships, and setting goals.

Excerpt from “IT’S YOUR BUSINESS: 183 Essential Tips That Will Transform Your Small Business” by JJ Ramberg, with Lisa Everson and Frank Silverstein. Copyright 2012 Reprinted by permission of Business Plus, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

“It’s Your Business” author JJ Ramberg is host of the MSNBC program, Your Business,and head of her company,


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