Setting Expectations – The Always and Never List

“Tell people what to expect and hold them to it without apology.” – Your Oxygen Mask First

I often talk to people about one of the things key principles from Chapter 13 of my bookTeach People to Meet Your Standards – called the Always and Never list. It’s a mini instruction manual about setting expectations and what people need to do to work well with you.

As a leader, you need to be comfortable saying exactly what’s on your mind and to get your expectations on the table. The best people want to work with you effectively, but they won’t know how to unless you tell them. It’s not rocket science. If you want people to do their best job possible, you have to teach them to meet your standards, without surprises or guess work.

Otherwise, they start to make stuff up – and often miss the mark and get it wrong. We get too busy to say anything and get used to people disappointing us. That’s not fair to anyone.

One CEO I worked with hated emails but because they are part of the normal culture, he didn’t say anything – and everyone emailed him. I only found out when he pointed out that he loved working with one particular executive. When I asked him why he said it was because he never emailed him. He just sent him updates on WhatsApp and worked with him on the fly. He loved it!

When I pressed, he admitted that he’d never asked others to do the same. So, one by one, we educated his team. The CEO was happy and the team loved it because decisions were made faster.

In my world there are six things on my Always and Never list:

  1. The 24/7 rule – If we talk about a task or a project to get done, I expect the task to be completed in 24 hours and the project, in seven days.
  2. Be on time – A face-to-face meeting means arriving 10 minutes early, ready to go when the clock strikes the hour
  3. When speaking – don’t start with the back story of a land far, far away. Give me the headlines, then back it up
  4. Emails – Never expect that your job is finished just because you’ve sent me an email. Arrange a time to review and talk. Conversely, when I send you an email, I assume you’ve got it – you don’t need to reply that you have.
  5. Never make excuses and pass blame – Screwing up is OK but don’t slough off responsibility.
  6. Don’t make me ask twice.

The Challenge

  • Draft your Always and Never List with five or six things you wish everyone on your team would always do or never do when working with you
  • Share it with people on your team
  • Ask them to draft and share their lists with you and with each other.