Imagine the situation: you start a new role, or you have a new line manager and you go through the first few days and weeks, have some meetings, and a couple of months down the line 1 of 2 things start to happen.

Either everything is hunky-dory and you’re having a wonderful time; you get on with your team, your boss is a dream to work for, and you’re getting great feedback on your results. Or the other scenario happens. You are getting a little anxious, your boss is tetchy with you and there have been some miscommunication and misunderstandings, and feedback isn’t really forthcoming. Sound familiar?

Time and again I speak to people in organisations who I am coaching, mentoring or training and when they tell me it’s all a bit tense between them and their line manager, or that there are crossed wires; I ask the same question: “have you had the expectations conversation, where you both agree what you expect of each other and how you’ll work together?”.

And what do you think the answer is? No!

95% of the time, without fail, that conversation hasn’t happened. And it hasn’t just not happened within the first week or first month, I’ve known people who have had the same line manager for 2 years+ and this hasn’t happened. Seriously? What do you talk about in performance review conversations? Even more scary – this can be at any level of the organisation from the leadership team down.

So why does this keep happening? Why do we keep setting our team members up to fail by simply not saying what we expect of them? Giving them the job description is simply not enough, nor is the company induction. As a line manager (at any level), a 2 way conversation needs to happen explaining:

  • what you expect of that person – in both deliverables and behaviour
  • how often you would like to meet/talk to them to get an update on what they are doing (daily/weekly etc)
  • How you would like them to give you this update: face to face, email, phone, in a team meeting, and what you’d like to know
  • When you will meet for a one to one meeting and review performance and development (now this should be monthly, irrespective of what type of appraisal or performance conversation framework you have) and how you will feedback to each other, and discuss how you are working together
  • What your team member expects of you as their line manager. How they would like feedback, what support looks like to them and when they expect you to respond if they ask for help//feedback.

Now this is not rocket science; it’s basic people management, and when we are moving within organisational frameworks to more informal performance conversations, and less formal half/full year reviews, it’s even more crucial. Straightforward, honest conversations in simple language. Yet, why are line manager’s not seeing this as a key part of their role that needs to be done ideally day 1, but if not – definitely week 1? Answers in the comments box please……

The benefits of this conversation are simple:

  1. You both know what you expect of each other, where you stand and how & what you will communicate, when. This removes the guess work, takes away all the assumption and means conflict and misunderstanding is a lot less likely to happen.
  2. You have a contract of what good behaviour looks like between both of you, which isn’t open to interpretation
  3. It builds trust! And this is vital to working together and is the basis for creating high performance. Without the bedrock of trust, we lose focus on results, encourage negative conflict, damage commitment and create barriers for accountability.

So, if you are reading this as a leader or a team member, and you haven’t had the expectations conversation yet (and please don’t tell me how long you’ve both been working together; I might cry!), I ask 1 thing of you, and I ask that you do this within the next week.

The next time you see your line manager/team member for a catch up meeting; please can you just ask the following question, and then take the conversation from there: “can we please talk about how we can work together more effectively?”

thank you!