S.P.E.L.L. it Out. 6 Ways to Set Expectations.

Spelling out expectations is so critical in all aspects of life; like when you have a new employee, when your child cleans their room and, even when we start on a new project.  If you don’t spell out the expectations, it will, at the very least be frustrating and at its worst, an epic fail.  I see this step being skipped constantly.  Why bother?  Shouldn’t your child know what the expectations for a clean room are?  Didn’t we hire that employee because they were the most qualified for the job?  Haven’t you accomplished other projects?  You will be doomed for disappointment without clarifying expectations.

I can imagine that if we did a poll of one hundred parents about their expectations for room cleanliness that we would find at least 80 different sets of expectations (this assumes that some of those poled are married and have already had a few grumbles about room cleanliness and, therefore, have the same expectations).  The point is, you cannot assume that we would all agree about what a clean bedroom is.  And we certainly cannot assume that your child has the same standards.

Your child gets grounded because they didn’t realize that stuffing all the toys under the bed does not mean “clean”.  You’re disappointed in the home improvement project because you didn’t realize that fixtures you really wanted were five times more expensive.

So how do you avoid the tendency to think that everyone knows your expectations through osmosis and get down to the nitty gritty before you send that new employee off into battlefield of ambiguous work standards?  Here are a few steps.

1. Reflect. What do you want?  What does the perfect outcome look like?  You need to be clear with yourself and/or the team before you set your new employee a drift.  Why did we have to hire someone new?  Did the last customer service rep go down in flames because he didn’t know that the schedule was completely inflexible?    As they say, history tends to repeat, so reflect on what went wrong (or right) the last time.

2. Anticipate. When I send my husband to the grocery store for milk, you might think that is a very basic, simple item for him to purchase.  Well, it isn’t.  I need to anticipate who will be opening that refrigerator door for the next seven days.  If it’s my daughter, it better be soy milk.  If it’s my son, it better be organic skim milk.  If my husband is the intended user, it better be 2% lactose free milk.  Simple item.  Complex expectations.

3. List. It’s a good idea to have a list; whether it be a written checklist, employee manual or just a short mental checklist. “Benson”, that’s my son, “a clean room means clean clothes hung up or folded and put away, the bed being made and no items on the floor”.  In my days as a Sizzler restaurant owner, we had a pre-meal checklist for each meal period.  It was important that even the temperature ranges for the food was spelled out.  Soup < 145 degrees.

4. Engage.  Have a conversation.  It might even be a lecture.  But explain your list.  As in, the soup needs to be over 145 degrees because we don’t want anyone getting sick.  The bed needs to be made because we are having visitors this weekend.  We need personal phone calls kept to a minimum because we have a limited amount of incoming phone lines.  Explain the rationale.  It makes for more buy in.

5. Clarify.  There may be a deadline.  There might be a budget.  There may be other resources.  If the grandparents are arriving at 6 PM, this might be important information when my husband heads out for milk at 5 PM.  The new employee might want to know who else on the team has done this job so they have them as a crutch.  S.P.E.L.L. it all out.

6. Rinse and Repeat. Unfortunately, this is not a one shot deal.  It can be time consuming and tedious.  It was obvious which Sizzler restaurant was not using its pre-meal checklist.  And it usually translated into lower sales.  The customers had expectations.

Take the time and energy to S.P.E.L.L. out your expectations.  It will save you frustration, time and energy.  It will also keep your relationships on a higher plane.  Those around you will appreciate knowing what to expect.

What would you do?

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