For some reason, it seems like the idea of “setting expectations” has taken on a bit of a negative connotation in today’s business climate. It’s as if it managers who do this are viewed as Ebenezer Scrooge towering over poor Bob Cratchit, trying to cow him into complete submission and subordination. You will meet my expectations … or else!!!
As a result, many managers tend to skip over the idea of setting expectations and clearly communicating them to their team. They seem to think that this will bring about a more harmonious working relationship. By letting employees find their own way, they are setting them free to be creative and productive.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Setting expectations is a tremendously important leadership principle and a benefit for both you and your team members alike. It’s just another way of bringing clarity to what everyone is trying to accomplish. And it is even more critical when working with Virtual Assistants.
Effective Leadership Begins on Day One
One of the reasons that I included “First Day” in this title is that I believe it is important to establish expectations right from the beginning, particularly with new Virtual Assistants. This valuable leadership tip for managing people has a number of very good reasons behind it.
To begin with, effective communication is going to be more critical, and sometimes more challenging, with your VA’s. It is a different situation than working with your onsite employees who can simply walk down the corridor and ask you a question if they have to. For them, too much guidance might feel a little like micro-management.
Your VA’s, however, will often be juggling many tasks at the same time. It is just the nature of working as a virtual assistant that they often must maintain several clients at once. By having clear and precise directions from you, it can make them much more effective. In fact, it is sometimes easier for your VA to work with deadlines and sharply defined parameters that your regular employees would find restrictive because it helps your VA’s order their workday more effectively.
A good business leadership tip is to start out by letting your VA’s know exactly what your company is about, how you like to work, the basics of your business, etc., etc. This gives them clarity right from the beginning and facilitates their understanding of their specific role.
From there, transition into more detailed specifics about the actual job. These expectations should be formalized to a degree. They should include performance goals and, if applicable, contain measurable objectives. Before you finish, ensure that everything has been clearly understood and there are no immediate questions.
This practice will communicate to your new VA what kind of leader you are. A good leadership developmental tip is that a focused manager who gives clear instructions is usually much more preferable because it allows your virtual assistants to work with confidence.
Keep in mind also that, due to issues like different time zones, languages and working hours, communication is not always so simple, even with instant messaging and Skype. For example, if I’m working with my VA’s in the States, we only have small windows every day where we can directly communicate. They need to have all the details already in place so that they can deliver work at the quality that I expect.
Defining Expectations Gives You Greater Clarity Too
You might think that you already understand what your expectations are. You have a certain position in mind, or a certain task, and know exactly how you want it completed.
However, you might be surprised, once you really sit down and start writing your expectations out in detail that you really hadn’t thought carefully enough about the specifics of the job you needed to be performed. Or that there are aspects of your business that you take for granted that might need to be communicated explicitly to your VA. Keep in mind that you are working with someone maybe half way around the world who might know very little about your specific business.
Define Expectations for Yourself Too
Maybe you are a bit uncertain how to go about setting expectations without coming off as confrontational. You might be concerned about damaging your team dynamic, or that it conflicts with the easy-going person you see yourself as being. An important leadership principle, however, is to find a way of communicating these instructions that fit your management style. If you don’t, it will be a disservice to both you and your VA.
One way you can maintain your team dynamic is to also set expectations for yourself in the process. You can communicate to your new team members just exactly what you will be doing for them, as well as what they will be doing for you. Outline the responsibilities and measures you will undertake to ensure that they are able to successfully contribute to your company. They will appreciate this and realize that what you are striving for is clarity and that your ultimate goal is simply success for all involved.
The Goal is Clarity
When you fail to set clear expectations, it can lead to frustration and poor work ethic from your VA’s. It can also cause a bit of paralysis due to uncertainty over what should be done.
Sometimes VA’s might worry that asking questions will be viewed as a sign of incompetence, or an inability to take the ball and run with it. So they plow ahead uncertainly and hope that they have interpreted you correctly. It is best for all involved to remove this doubt from the very beginning by giving clear and detailed instructions.
Setting firm expectations does not mean that you cannot have any casual, informal communication with your VA’s. The goal here is simply to bring clarity to the job at hand for everyone’s sake. The way you deliver that message is up to you, but there is no reason why communicating detailed instruction and having a friendly relationship with your VA’s should be at odds. In fact, implementing this leadership principle may be the key to a lasting and successful business relationship.