Ways to Effectively Set Management Expectations

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In this article, you will learn about the topic of expectation management. Starting with 1) an introduction, we will deep dive into 2) the types of expectations, 3) what an expectation gap is, 4) how to generally manage expectations, 5) setting goals and expectations from your team, 6) pitfalls of not setting expectations, and 7) a conclusion.


When working on a project, one of the most important aspect of it is managing the project so that it is completed in time while there are few if any problems that can affect it. Theoretically, it may seem that a project may not have any problems, but practically, there is always some cog in the wheel or the other that needs to be dealt with effectively to bring the project to its conclusion without much loss of time or money. One of the basic elements of project management is setting expectations from the employees regarding operation and delivery of the project. It is imperative that the project is properly planned before employees can be told of what they are expected to deliver. Sadly, there are few managers who plan each stage of a project properly and supply their team with a clear guideline regarding major project management issues. It is to their advantage if clear instructions and line of communication is maintained with the team.


Expectations are personal parameters set by people according to their own perceptions. Expectations can be of many different type. Expectations can be said to have two different aspect, which are content and level. On the content aspect, expectations can be classified as:

  • Interpersonal expectations: Sometimes the relationship between the producers and customers can affect expectations. How the two involved parties interact and perceive each other defines expectation and changes it.
  • Technological expectations: These expectations are based on the technical aspect of a project and could change due to any variations in the technology, quality standards, or other such changes.
  • Situational expectations: These are based upon the situation for each customer and what they expected out of the product. Since the situation of each customer and the aim behind the purchase may be different, hence the expectations can also change accordingly.
  • Static or dynamic performance expectations: These are based upon the quality and performance of the end product in a particular application. How the product can be changed, adapted, or customized and a host of other parameters. It also depends upon the how the product or the service changes, improves or evolves over a period of time.

The expectations at the content level are related to the interaction between the management and the team that is delivering the project and are concerned with the nature of the job or its current position.

According to the level aspect, the expectations can fall into any one of the following types:

  • Realistic: When expectations are set within reasonable limits and can possibly be fulfilled by putting in some effort they are said to be within realistic limits and possible.
  • Unrealistic: When people expect impossible results, which cannot be achieved by any amount of effort, then the expectation is said to be unrealistic.
  • Fuzzy: When people expect some result but are unsure of it, then it is called fuzzy expectation.
  • Implicit: When people have an idea of what they want but do not know how to go about achieving it nor have a clear end result in sight, the expectation is said to be implicit.
  • Explicit: People with clear vision of what they want have an explicit expectation. They are aware of what they want, the end result and how it can be achieved.


The perceived success or failure of a project depends largely upon the people who manage the project and their expectations of it. Some projects may be deemed a success even if they did not meet all the goals, while others may be marked as a failure despite all the goals of time, budget and completion being met. This happens because the expectations of the management for the first project were realistic and within bounds, while those of the second project were unrealistic and thus disappointed the management or stakeholders of the project.

Expectations are expected bonus as perceived by the beneficiaries or stakeholders of the project. If the expectations are not managed properly, they can lead to an expectation gap which is greater than the gap between delivered value and perceived value. Expectation values tend to fluctuate up or down, generally in response to some event. When the expected value is greater than the delivered value, then we have an expectation gap. It is then imperative that the expectations be managed to reduce the expectation gap. This can be managed through proper feedback and communication.


When planning projects, it is hard to anticipate and prepare for all eventualities that may occur during the project. This means constantly changing requirements and unforeseen additions or deletions. Managing these eventualities is the greatest challenge of any project manager as they can affect management expectations and create an expectation gap. The expectations can be of many different types. Each type of expectation has to be handled in a different way.

Set initial expectations as early as possible

In order to deal with unplanned events, it is important that the project managers set management expectations at the stage of planning itself. It is essential to plan the project in minutest details and to get approval for all the goals and achievements of the project and its various stages. For a manager it means having a full understanding of the project and all its various requirements. Managing the performance of the various teams and reporting is an essential part of this process and should be dealt with very carefully and in detail. Communication channels need to be established and responsibilities fixed to ensure that there is accountability in the process. All the performance goals and management expectations should be discussed at length and determined before the commencement of the project.

Be very honest and very clear

Understanding what is required and expected of you is essential for managing expectations. Do not assume that you and your boss are essentially speaking the same language. Most often they are not and this leads to confusion and delays. So you must ensure that you understand all the responsibilities, priorities and what needs to be done to mark the project as a success. Be honest about the deliverability of the expectations. If you feel the expectations are too high, do speak up and negotiate to have more realistic expectations.

Communicate to provide an update of any changes

Understanding and clarity are just the initial stages of the process of communication. The communication channel needs to be maintained throughout the duration of the project. This will present you with the chance to measure performance and progress, have a risk assessment and readjust your approach to align with the goal.

Under-promise and over-deliver

This is a good strategy to keep expectations under check. Agree to goals that you can easily achieve without much effort, even though you know that you can deliver a lot more than you are promising. This will be to your advantage when you finally deliver more than you had promised.

Don’t over-manage expectations

One can often go too far out to manage expectations. Don’t stress yourself out over what other people’s expectations are from you. Each person has his own expectations and you cannot deliver to all. So concentrate on what you can deliver and get the management see your point of view and set their expectation at a realistic level. Your biggest stumbling block is you yourself. So keep your own expectations under check.


Goal setting is one of the prerequisites of good management. Each project is a team effort and each member of the team needs to know what is expected of them and what they need to deliver to complete the project in time, within budget and successfully. Goal setting is not a onetime thing. It is a dynamic process that changes according to the present circumstances, hence the management needs to keep its expectations from the team realistic and flexible within a limit. Goal setting helps an employees to know what is required of them and what they have to achieve in order to deliver their part of the whole.

Setting and managing goals depends to a large degree on the culture and policies of an organization. The implementation and monitoring process varies from one organization to another. The major points that set management expectations include budget, scope and schedule. None of these points can be guaranteed to be exactly as planned and hence, a degree of change factor should be allowed when setting expectations. Goal setting is a trying process and should be handled carefully. If the goals do not match expectation, there is trouble for all. In order to match the set expectations with achievable goals, a manager needs to pay attention to the following:

  • Planning properly: As already discussed above, planning is the most important factor in setting expectations. It is often seen that expectations are set by people who do not have a grasp on ground realities and hence the problems that may crop up to complete the project. So it is essential to plan and set up the most important milestones that are acceptable to everyone. This requires that schedules have to be made and work listed and distributed to the various teams.
  • Set out the objectives: When the objective that have to be achieved are known, it is easier to set directions and effectively complete them. In order to facilitate this, the manager must know all the goals and objectives of the project and communicate the same to his team that will eventually be executing the work. One aspect of this is to be very clear in what you want delivered and when.
  • Give a final date of completion: Always communicate the final date by which the project has to be completed. This again helps in streamlining the work priorities and gives the team a clear understanding of what is to be completed and by when. If the project is phased, then give a date or time frame within which each phase has to be completed to avoid delays and tailbacks later in the project.
  • Set guidelines for authority: Set authority hierarchy early on in the project so everyone knows who is reporting to whom and what. It is essential to have this sorted so that in case spot decisions have to be taken, which could possibly derail or delay the project, then they can be taken without delay. It keeps the work streamlined as everyone knows who is responsible for what and take their responsibilities seriously. It also helps with accountability. There is less scope for passing the buck when there is clear hierarchy. The authority in case of each team member should be defined in terms of independence of decision taking, spending, and leading the team.
  • Communicate priorities: Communicate the priorities of the project to the team so that they are aware of what needs to be done when. Ensure that level of effort and return on investment are the top priority for the project and each member of the team should be aware of this. Constantly review your list of priorities and adjust it according to the situation on the ground. Having regular review meetings help to communicate the priorities to each member and also empowers them.
  • Setup reporting process: The feedback and reporting system needs to be setup for a project to progress smoothly. Management needs to have a timetable for reporting. It could be scheduled to be weekly or fortnightly. The details that are required to be included in the report should also be defined. If a team or a member of the team has experienced difficulties in similar situations before, then the manager should set up a schedule for interim report so that particular task can be scrutinized and problems averted before they occur.
  • Communicate completion expectations: The completion expectations can change during the course of the project, but they need to be discussed and communicated to all the concerned personnel. During staff meetings, get a grasp on the situation and communicate the final goal to the teams.
  • Have a realistic view: One should be realistic about schedules and deliveries. Remember your team is comprised of humans and there is only so much that they can do within a given time. So it is imperative that management sets realistic goals that are achievable. There are many components to completing a project and if any one goes wrong then it has a domino effect on the entire project. Such eventualities need to be built into expectations to avoid excessive pressure on the team that may be detrimental to their motivation and disappointing for the management.
  • Keep your team motivated: For a project to be completed successfully and in time, employee motivation is a very important factor. To keep the employees motivated, offering incentives for work completed in time and keeping expectations within realistic limits is important. Employees are motivated when they are not too hard pressed to deliver and are given a certain amount of freedom during work. As long as the goal are being delivered and the project is on time, you should not put on too much pressure.
  • Avoid micromanagement: One of the biggest mistakes managers can make is to micromanage a project. It is detrimental for the project as well as the employees. A lot of time is wasted in reporting back on the smallest detail and employees feel that their skill and competency is being undermined.
  • Involve all the team members in setting the expectations: When setting employee expectation, all the team members from the managers to the mechanic should be involved so they can have a say in the process and are informed about what the management expects of them and how it is to be achieved. No employee is too inconsequential in a project, as each one has a role to play and hence, each one should be involved.
  • Ask questions to get clarifications: Don’t hesitate to ask questions about things that you are unable to grasp. It is better to ask than to begin the task in doubt or confusion and do it wrong, wasting time effort and money.
  • Help in facilitating the job and removing obstacles: The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and keep the team moving forward smoothly. It is the job of the management to find the resources to get the project completed.

A project manager constantly walks the tight rope between the top management or the client and the employees entrusted with the task of executing the project. But if you keep the above points in your mind while handling a project, then you will have a smooth ride up to the end.


Not setting expectations has its own shortcomings. Employees and worker need to have a knowledge of what is expected of them, it gives them a direction to work towards. Hence, it is essential that functions, tasks and responsibilities be assigned at the earliest and the expectations be conveyed clearly. Lack of expectation can often lead to:

  • Confusion: Lack of expectations leads to confusion as the team doesn’t know what to do, how to do, and when to do. Also they have no clue of what is expected of them.
  • Poor Work Quality: When there is no expectation defined, the employees will often deliver poor quality work. As they have no standards to maintain nor are they held accountable for their work.
  • Time Wasting: It often leads to confusion as there is no plan to follow and people do not know what to do next. There are no priorities or sequence to follow and often leads to doing the wrong work or not doing it properly so that it has to be done again.
  • Inefficiency: When there is no expectation communicated, people do what they want and however they want. Causing inefficiency and inconsistency.
  • Employee Disinterest and Disengagement: Working aimlessly with nothing productive in sight leads to disinterest and apathy towards the job. Having no measurable goals or direction leads to disengagement.


While setting expectations, it is best to keep it under restrain, though it may seem like a good strategy to have high expectations, in reality it is not, as inability to deliver can cost you dearly. It leads to lack of self-worth and a sense of failure, neither of which are good for your self-confidence or performance. What is more important is to be flexible with the expectations and adjust according to the situation. You may raise the bar or lower it as time passes and the situation becomes clearer.

Sometimes it is good to have a chain of results that might ensue from the success or failure of a project. This helps you to gauge the expectations and help to rationalize. Expectation does not restrict itself to just a few aspects of a project, it is an interconnected chain of events and results. This chain needs to be examined and each link studied to measure the real impact of expectations.

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