7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Setting Expectations

March 21, 2018
7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Setting Expectations

Whether you're thinking about yourself or others, setting expectations can be difficult.

For yourself, it's tempting to set low, easily achievable goals you know you can exceed. And when you're setting expectations for others, it's hard to know what's realistic and achievable.

Here are 7 common pitfalls of setting expectations – and how you can avoid them.

What to Avoid When Setting Expectations

1. You don't know what's realistic.

When setting expectations, it's important to know what is achievable. But that information is often not available. Whether you're releasing a new product, entering a new territory, or introducing a new function, you can't always know what to expect.

When you don't have enough information to know what's realistic, find as much information as you can. Look at comparable situations you've encountered in the past, as well as what your competitors have done. Ask friends and colleagues for their examples.

Once you've set the expectations, make sure you check in often. Develop a process for regularly evaluating whether the expectations are realistic.

And don't forget to have a plan for what you will do if your expectations are off base! Selling too much of something can be just as problematic as selling not enough of it.

2. Your team isn't aligned on expectations.

Often, the people setting expectations are somewhat disconnected from the day-do-day work. If sales goals come from VPs or the board, sales reps may feel disconnected from the process. If a change mandate comes from the C-suite, managers may not understand why they are being asked to do things differently.

When your team is misaligned on expectations, communication is key. If possible, get a group of stakeholders together to align on what's happening and how people are expected to respond. In a situation where you can't get a group together, speak individually with key stakeholders and clarify expectations.

If you're experiencing disconnects on sales goals, check out the eBook I wrote last month. It provides a comprehensive process for setting sales goals, as well as best practices for tracking progress and aligning activities to goals.

Free Resource: The Ultimate Guide to Setting & Achieving Sales Goals

3. You can't measure adherence to expectations.

I'm often surprised to see how many organizations lack a system to measure results. Whether it's activity tracking or even just sales results, many organizations are in the dark.

If you are setting expectations, you need to be able to measure whether people are meeting them. As you set expectations, identify a KPI for each item. Then, develop a simple way to track each KPI.

For example, if you want to see more outbound, proactive prospecting activity in the team, identify a specific goal. Maybe you want to see each person spending at least 4 hours per week prospecting. Or you want to see each person completing at least 5 prospecting activities a day. Which of those better supports your objective? Which can you effectively track?

4. Evaluations are qualitative rather than quantitative.

Not everything can be measured with numbers, but it's dangerous to lean too heavily on qualitative evaluations.

If your expectations are based primarily on anecdotal feedback and evaluations, work to identify quantitative measurements.

Unfortunately, qualitative evaluations often invite bias and subjectivity. Quantitative measurements set a more level playing field.

5. People are treated differently.

Building on the previous point, we often see that when setting expectations and tracking results, people are treated differently.

It is, of course, fully appropriate to have different expectations for members of the team based on their experience level, role, and other factors. There's always context to consider. But are you letting people off the hook? Giving some people an easier ride? Setting someone up to fail?

Evaluate the expectations you've set for your team and consider whether they're consistent. It can be helpful to ask a neutral party for their feedback if you're concerned you might not be treating people equally.

6. You haven't established a culture that values accountability.

If you don't have a culture that values accountability, setting expectations doesn't matter. People will know that they can miss their goals without risking any penalties.

We often see in smaller or family-oriented organizations, leaders are afraid to enact any consequences for bad behavior. People then learn that they can get away with missing expectations.

Establish clear expectations, and communicate up front what will happen if expectations are missed. If someone does fall short, make sure you follow through on what you said would happen. People will quickly learn that they need to follow through and meet expectations.

7. You're giving yourself a break.

If you aren't holding yourself to a high standard, you can't expect to hold anyone else accountable. It's tempting to give yourself a break, but you need to resist it.

Establish high goals and standards for yourself, and work to achieve them. If you fall short, acknowledge it and work to improve.

By sharing stories of how you work to meet your own high expectations, you'll promote a culture of responsibility.

I hope this is helpful as you are setting expectations for yourself and others!

For more insight on accountability and workability, check out our latest eBook: Accountability in Sales.

Free eBook: Accountability in Sales - A Guide for CEOs, Sales VPs, & Sales Managers on How to Guide Performance

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