Great leaders manage expectations

Make it obvious
photo courtesy flickr user Joe Shlabotnik

(MoneyWatch) We all approach work under certain assumptions. Many years ago, I did an internship at a publication that gave me an e-mail address of "intern 2." I think the higher-ups didn't think it mattered because they did their reporting by phone. I did mine by e-mail, and this was a cause of friction because, well, just try to get people to respond to the e-mails of intern 2. I wound up using my personal e-mail address for much of the summer.

Likewise, we assume certain things about when and how people are supposed to work. But across generations and work styles, employees may not make the same assumptions. So it is not a given that they understand you expect them to respond quickly to e-mail sent after 6 p.m. Nor do they know that you expect them to leave when you leave or that you may actually want the office to yourself for a while in the evenings.

In research for the new Hartford Tomorrow@Work trends report, Gen Y expert and LinkedIn ambassador Lindsey Pollak found that "Millennials in particular look for these 'guardrails' as they enter the workforce," she says. "As a manager, when you spell out employee expectations for work done outside the 9-to-5 day, you are also providing direction for daily expectations. By being up front and outlining the different expectations for inside and outside the workday, employees will feel a sense of fairness from the manager." She adds that such spelled-out expectations can prevent conflict and promote teamwork and productivity. Millennials, she says "are used to having teachers, professors, deans, parents and tutors give them guidelines on their activities. They do best in workplaces that provide similar support."

So go ahead and make clear exactly what you like and don't like. If you have broad expectations -- like expecting those  under your supervision to be free to work late the week before major deadlines, which will happen roughly quarterly -- go ahead and tell new hires, and in a group e-mail on occasion in case people forget. You may think people already know this, but what do you have to lose by making it clear?

"However, since many offices consist of many different dynamics and changing projects, even changing teams, expectations usually fluctuate," Pollak says. So it might be smart to share expectations individually, too, as often as possible -- "such as sending an e-mail to a co-worker at 7 p.m. and noting that you don't expect a response that night."

How do you set expectations for your team?

Photo courtesy flickr user Joe Shlabotnik