top of page

The Lever #053 - Expectation Setting

If you don't set the right expectations don't be surprised if you don't get the results you want.


But first:

Have you ever noticed how tough it is selling digital products with so many different online platforms?

What payment processing software should you use?

What digital product delivery platform is best?

On December 12th join the Solo Creator Summit to hear five leading experts in the digital product industry discuss how to sell in 2024.


Incomplete Info

In my day job I'll often send people out with incomplete information.

Something along the lines of "Go here. Find this boat. Leave now."

It's part of the business and it keep things interesting.

Incomplete information can be dealt with.

The real problem is improperly communicated expectations.

Clear Expectations

Stating your expectations clearly is one of the core tenets of good communication. This is important to ensuring that the desired result is delivered and there is no miscommunication surrounding the issue.

Clear Expectations can be defined as:

  • The right info

  • To the right people

  • At the right time

The Right Info - The right info means all the info required to do the job.

This has two components; Completeness and Accuracy.

Completeness doesn't necessarily mean all the info, but it must be comprehensive for the task.

People often get so close to an issue or situation that it becomes commonplace to them. Because of that they start to feel that other people have the same handle on things as they do, so key info is left out.

Nick Peterson describes this as the "Rocky Road" - the context of the situation is assumed to be understood.

Assume nothing.

The Right People - How to define which people are the right people, especially in a large organization?

The answer is to include everyone involved.

I have sailed on vessels with close to three hundred personnel on board, each with a specific function. While the cook doesn't need to know exactly what the engineer is doing, they do need to know what the job is about so they can best support the project.

There is a fine line to walk between sending company-wide email blasts, and forgetting to include somebody involved, but this can be mostly circumvented by some careful thought at the beginning of the project about who the stakeholders are.

The Right Time - To support decision making people should receive the information they need before it is required.

This way they will have time to process it before ultimately making use of it.

The difference between Just in Time and Too Late is often only minutes apart. The best time to pass needed information is to pass it when it's needed.

I believe that people know intuitively when to do the right thing and the only reason they don't is due to a lack of accountability.

Communicating Expectations

To state your expectations clearly you first need all of the facts.

Make sure that sufficient background information is included. If in doubt err on the side of repetition.

Once your expectations are stated it is important to close with a recap of what was agreed and a timeline for completion. This way there can be no misunderstandings.

The second thing to nail down at this stage is a timeline for follow up.

It is important that you schedule these in your calendar so as not to miss them. Otherwise it becomes an idle statement.

Progress check-ins are a great way to ensure that the original timeline will be met, or to get things back on track before they go too far in the wrong direction.

The Receiving End

What about if you are on the other side and are unsure what the expectations are?

Take ownership of the situation and figure out what is expected.

The only way to do this is by asking. While it may be uncomfortable to do so it is imperative that you take command of the situation and clarify the requirements.

Many people feel that if they weren't told something by their superior it gives them a pass. But being professionals it is everyone's duty to do their job to the best of their ability. This sometimes includes asking when unsure about something.

Everyone needs to take ownership of every situation; both up and down the chain.

The Bottom Line

Having somebody do unnecessary work because of poor communication is unprofessional.

The most effective way to mitigate this is by ensuring that everyone involved knows what is expected ahead of time. Use the facts to make the best decisions possible, then communicate that to the people that need that information to do what is needed.

By clearly setting down your expectations, and following up in a timely fashion, you will ensure that the job gets done properly and on time.


When you are ready, here are a few ways I can help:

1. Subscribe to The Lever (if you haven't already)

This covers a science-based productivity concept each week, in about five minutes. Try a free chapter of my new book when you subscribe. And if you like it...

Peaceful Productivity outlines the time-management system I've created over the years as a ship's Captain and business executive. It will help you plan, prioritize, and get more of the right things done. Also available on Amazon

This short course will teach you the fundamentals of a powerful timeblocking system to make sure you never miss an obligation and always show up prepared. Give yourself the space you need to create the life you deserve.

Smart systems to make you productive, prolific, and profitable | Find me on Twitter @SeanPHogue | Sign up here for the weekly newsletter, The Lever, and create some leverage in your life.


bottom of page