Don’t risk being held to account for things you don’t know about. Take the time to find out what people really expect you to do, and what they expect you to deliver. If they don’t tell you, ask. It’s part of getting and giving a good promise and is key to effective performance conversations.
I recently had a conversation with a manager who was disturbed by her inability to meet the expectations of those “higher up” (her term). They would give her assignments and then, when she would complete them, they would point out something that was missing they expected to be included. Has this ever happened to you? Although it is easy for this manager to blame the “higher ups” for not being clear, she shares some of the responsibility for not finding out what they wanted. Even when you aren’t given a good request, you can have a performance conversation to convert hidden expectations into clear agreements.
If you look at each of your current assignments, are you confident you are 100% clear about what is expected of you in every case? Is everyone else involved in the assignment also 100% clear about what you expect of them? Or are you assuming you’ll figure it out, or they already know?
Assumptions and expectations are “silent standards”. We take a big risk when we assume that everyone knows what to do. If creativity is desirable, it’s fine to give a general direction. But if there are specific creative requirements that matter, you’ll want to get them spelled out.
Take the time to spell things out. What should the final product look like? What are the components? When do they need to be ready? Are there other people who should be involved and if so, who? Is there a particular method or process that should be used or avoided? What restrictions and specifications apply? Don’t take a chance: assume nothing is obvious.
Remember: everyone associated with an assignment has expectations and assumptions. Some people expect you to ask for their advice, others want to be kept informed, and some only want to be involved in an emergency. And, they expect you to operate according to these expectations even if you don’t know them! Ask people to take time with you to spell out their expectations. Yes, you have to ask.
Sometimes people are afraid to ask because it might make them look less competent or capable, or they don’t want to deal with an unpleasant reaction. One way around this is to say something like “I want to be sure you get exactly what you want and in order to do that, I want to be sure I understand the assignment clearly. I don’t want to complete it only to find out there is something missing that you wanted included. Could we take a few more minutes to clarify some things?” It is better to risk some potential discomfort upfront than it is to risk damaging your reputation by not delivering what people expect.
Getting clear creates a common ground in that both of you know what is expected. This has the effect of turning an expectation into an agreement and gives you (and them) the opportunity to say whether you can or cannot do what they ask – a key for any good promise. If something new comes up later, you can always say, “I didn’t agree to that, but I’m willing to consider it.” What you want to avoid is having to say, “I didn’t know you needed that,” or, “I thought this is what you wanted”.
Reduce your risk by taking time to unspoken expectations into clear agreements that everyone can see and understand. Move ambiguous requests into good promises by clarifying expectations.