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Expectation Management

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Author Chelsey Mastalski is a member of our fifth eMMissary Fellowship. She is a proud mother of two young children, a military spouse, and a DoD civilian at Edwards Air Force Base. Check out her insights into managing expectations.

Expectation management is essential in any workplace, and it can sometimes be very challenging to ensure the employee receives the message the way it was intended. My lessons learned have proven that clear and concise communication is the key.

As a young supervisor, I quickly learned to give clear and concise expectations. Clear expectations allow employees to understand the ‘why’ and how they will benefit the organization to reach the desired end state. During my first supervisory role, I thought my employee(s) understood the expectations provided. Upon in-depth discussion, it was clear that the message was lost in translation and other aspects that aided in the miscommunication.

An assumption was made on my part that most people work hard to get what they want, especially seasoned employees. My assumption was proven incorrect, leaving me with an unexpected level of disappointment. In my opinion, people either continue their work because they have passion and value in their position or continue the daily grind to receive a steady paycheck with little care.

The Outdoor Recreation (ODR) aspect of the DoD’s Morale Recreation and Welfare portfolio can be very labor intensive. The expectation is to have and maintain excellent customer service within a high number of facilities and operations provided to the installation. Two employees, upon my arrival, had been running the show since the supervisory position was vacant. Immediately I put my trust in these employees while I observed processes during the first month. Within the first two weeks it was apparent these employees were going to test my boundaries. Their actions made me nervous and anxious because I was there to assist and guide them. These employees lacked organization, customer service skills, and overall will and care while completing their job – but this wasn’t immediately evident. They were there for the small paycheck and 100% okay with performing at the bare minimum.

After observing for a month, I verbally danced around my expectations to be nice. That was my first mistake. Both employees appeared to complete their workload as I worked on improving overall customer service and the products ODR offered. After hiring new passionate staff to assist with the workload, it was evident my seasoned employees were working the bare minimum. They had not understood my expectations because I wasn’t clear in my messaging. I also had not given them written expectations. I decided it was time to inquire about discipline standards.

The bare minimum is never my style, personally or professionally. Still, since I was a new supervisor and new to the Outdoor Recreation industry, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I should have inquired about discipline standards with the human resource office and discussed the issues with my supervisor the minute I had an inkling. What happened with the employees? One quit before being fired to maintain a clean record, while the other verbally lashed out and ended up getting a position in another unit after his first official write-up.

I have experienced other scenarios, some more intense and some less, but it all comes down to the employee understanding the supervisor’s expectations. Employees need clear and concise written communication. So clear that you cannot just write “complete in a timely manner.” Your version of timely could be within two business days, and their version of timely could be within two business weeks. Being consistent while making expectations realistic will allow your employee(s) better understanding while allowing them to thrive. provides six tips for setting employee expectations:

  1. Set employee expectations early and often

  2. Keep expectations attainable and realistic

  3. Make expectations follow the SMART goal framework

  4. Connect expectations to clear metrics

  5. Review employee performance regularly

  6. Be open to collaborating on expectations

Expectation setting can occur as early as the interview process. A recent example was during the hiring process of a high turnover position in my current unit. During the interview with each potential employee, I expressed to them that this position would need someone with initiative and drive due to the lack of continuity and broken processes. I also let them know that our unit and employees manage and coordinate unique challenges other units may not experience. This transparency was given with the hope to ensure the applicant understands and acknowledges what they are stepping into if we select them – expectation management. I want them to accept the position and select our unit fully knowing the challenges that lie ahead.

Using the SMART goal framework (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) enhances communication while ensuring your employee(s) understand that you don’t expect them to walk on the moon in six months after just starting physics.

Clear and concise communication fits into every aspect of BetterUp’s tips. But in my experience, communicating to the employee with only written expectations may not be enough. Sometimes outside factors contribute to performance if expectations are not being met. Maybe, the employee(s) purely are not able or cannot meet the expectations. Consult your Human Resources Office about opportunities that may help employees in this situation.

Giving employees the benefit of the doubt is easier than spending hours documenting and preparing progressive discipline measures; however, putting in the work to ensure your employee fully understands expectations will provide a better result for you and your workplace.

To conclude, employee expectation management is essential. Every employee requires clear communication at the earliest opportunity. I still struggle with certain employees after completing the six tips discussed earlier in my current role. Each employee is different and may require altered approaches, but I believe in being honest and transparent with employees and myself. Personnel management will always be challenging, but clear and concise communication is required to ensure the message is received.

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