'What Do You Expect?' is a Good Question to Ask

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What is expected of us in our position within a business or organization? It's a question people tend to ask when they’re first hired or promoted, but not afterward - especially those in an executive or management role.

If you want to excel on a personal basis as well as make the company better, it's a good idea to regularly ask others, "what do you expect of me?" And not just your supervisors, but also those under you within the hierarchy.

What we often see in a lot of work environments is that in order for a person to achieve excellence, they must have a clear set of expectations for themselves in terms of what their responsibilities and duties are. Sometimes these can be different from the expectations your superiors and subordinates hold. When your sense of expectations varies too far from those you work with, invariably conflict or disappointment arise.

If you’re the CEO or leader of an organization, this disparity can be even more acute. Clearly someone in this position has a lot of responsibilities for having a vision, setting direction and holding people accountable. Because there's no one "above" you other than shareholders and/or a board of directors, the leader has to have a robust set of expectations for him or herself.

But have you flipped it around and asked the people under you – the department heads, the managers, the rank-and-file – what they expect of you?

If you do so, you may find things they demand of their leader that are not currently a top priority for you – or that are even on your radar at all.

If a leader is proactive in seeking out the feedback of a broad spectrum of people within the organization, it can not only reveal hidden opportunities or challenges, it will also help them improve on their relationships - which opens the door wider to improving on results.

Likewise, if you’re a staff member in a company who reports to someone, it’s wise to focus on setting goals, doing well on performance reviews and identifying unmet expectations. If you’re not meeting the requirements of your position, it’s possible there has been poor communication between you and your supervisor about clearly outlining those expectations.

It’s common in any type of human relationship to fall into the trap of assuming too much about the activities in which we are engaged, such as how our colleagues regard what we’re doing. And we all know the old joke about "assume."

Gaining feedback about what others expect of us is especially important for employees who have stayed in a single position or department for a long time. They may have become very effective doing things a certain way, so they stick to that modus operandi - because it’s comfortable and because it’s always worked for them.

But the world is always changing, nowhere more so than in business. If an employee fails to recognize that change and adapt to it, it’s easy for a gap to grow between their expectations for the job and what others have. By asking one another what their expectations are for us, it assists us in realizing that we often must change how we deliver a product or service to best serve the customer’s needs.

The benefits of asking for feedback on what others expect of us translates to every facet of life – our bosses, those we supervise, coworkers, spouses, best friends, etc. It never hurts to ask another for a frank appraisal of what they see as your duties and responsibilities.

Whether it’s part of an official performance review or just a quick check-in, keeping the lines of communication open about our expectations of one another is the best way to maximize productivity and performance, not to mention enhance the way we work together.

Nick Hopkins is director of tax services for Sponsel CPAs.

  • Perspectives

    • Greg Ballard is the former mayor of Indianapolis and a co-founder and current board member of Indy Women in Tech.

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