How to Set Clear Expectations for Your Team, Partners, Vendors, and Clients

Edited video transcript:

I mean you really thought you were clear on your expectations, and when you were talking, everybody was nodding like they understood. Then you get it back, and you're like, "What is this? This is not what I asked you for." Let's talk about how to set clear expectations in today's video.

Hey, it's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant. This whole video series is focused on giving leaders better tools to help them create the best-in-class business they envision, but you are never going to be able to get to that best-in-class vision if you are chasing small tasks all the time. You’ve got to shift, and so this whole series is focused on helping you shift from chief firefighter into chief executive.

Here is a simple guide to help you create clear expectations. Download it now. --> Download the Guide

Today's video is talking about expectations. How many times have you done this? You've talked to people. You’ve had the whole conversation, and everybody's nodding like they get what you mean, and then you get the deliverable back and you're trying to figure out what language do you guys speak? How did we miss the bar here? What happened? Let's break that down. Let's talk about some ways where you can make sure or at least limit the number of times you have this expectation gap.

The fundamental mistake that we all make, because I've made it too, is that you assume that because you explained it and they nodded that communication has taken place, and sometimes that’s just not true. Sometimes their nod is just an acknowledgment of you speaking. They hear words. It doesn’t mean that they understand. Your job is to make sure that before you part company, that they actually understand. Getting your expectations clearly understood really is about 2 parts. It's about the scope of work that you need to have done, whatever that is, and it's about how you plan to measure that scope of work. Let's break those down one at a time.

In the world of expectations, the first thing that you can do is demonstrate the actual activity you want to do. You may have to stand up and kind of get loose and actually go do the thing and have them walk with you, have them listen to you, have them be part of a walkthrough, whether it be with a client or a customer or a vendor or what have you. You may have to actually walk the whole experience through with them and fully demonstrate what it is that you are trying to do.

The second way is with an actual video walkthrough. There are tools that you can use to capture your screen, and so you can literally explain this is what we do. Click here, go here, open this up, do this thing, fill out this template, put it here, copy and paste and move it, et cetera, et cetera, whatever that workflow needs to be. You need to create the video walkthrough so they can clearly see how you do it.

Third is with actual examples. Maybe you can't create it yourself because you just don’t know how. For example, I don’t design well, so whenever I have something designed, I have to outsource it. I have to get some help with that, so what I send to any designer that I work with are plenty of examples of what I mean, "Listen, I'm trying to do some mix of this, this, this, this, and this." I send all those examples because I want them to clearly see what's in my mind. I don’t want to assume that I've explained it well. Don’t be afraid to use imagery, to go get examples, and show people where it is you're trying to go with this thing you're trying to have created.

Now here's a very important thing to remember when you set any kind of expectations. You need to let the person know, let the people know what you know and what you don’t know. Sometimes you know exactly what the task is, you know exactly how to do it, and you can walk them through it step by step. That’s great. You know how it all works. Sometimes you understand one part of it, but not all of it, and so you should be very clear that, "This is the part I understand, 1, 2, and 3. Now when you get to 4, you got to figure this out, 4, 5, and 6, you got to figure out how to get that done. We have a gap there, but I do know that I want to be at 7 and 8. Here's 1, 2, 3. Figure out 4, 5, and 6 as best you can. Make sure we get to 7 and 8." Be transparent with that, what you do and what you don’t know. It gives them a better sense of where you're trying to go with this particular project or task.

Now let's talk measurement. In measuring things, many times what you're asking for has a hardcore metric. Hey, if we implement this system, we should see sales increase. If we implement this system, we should see a cost decrease. If we implement this system, then it should be done in 30 minutes or in 15 minutes or in 5 minutes or whatever the timeframe happens to be. Typically, there's somewhere where you can measure the outcome of what it is you're having done. Tell people upfront, "This is how I'm going to measure this thing," sales or cost or time or some other important measure that’s important to you, but put a metric against your expectations.

The other way to measure against your expectations is with a simple checklist. If standard business metrics like money or time don’t make sense, then just create a very straightforward checklist and tell your person, tell your vendor, tell your employee, "Here's what I'm going to be looking at once we get through. Is this done? Is that done? Is this done? Is that done?" That provides a sense of measuring. They know what goals they have to hit. They know what the scope is at this point and now they know how you're going to measure against that scope, and that’s clear before they start working.

Now let me warn you. This requires more work upfront, especially if they're used to just talking through things and having folks scramble around and do them. The better you get at setting your expectations, the better they get at executing on your expectations. That means there are fewer projects that you have to go back and fix, go back and review, and go back and triage. That means less firefighting, and the less time you spend firefighting, the more time you can spend being chief executive.

What's your next step? Let's think about what this project is that you need done. Let's think about how you should set your expectations and how you should measure its success. In your world, you may say, "Hey, listen, I need help with this certain project. I have to create a walkthrough video and a checklist to make sure that it's done the right way." Put that in the comment box below so we can use it as a place to begin conversation. If you're already on the blog, you can scroll down a bit, and I've created a one-page document to help you sort through and sift through your own thoughts so you're sure on what you want so other folks can help you get it done. Please, put that thing in the comment box below. Let's start some conversation. Download that resource if it's a good one for you, and I look forward to seeing you in the next video.


  1. Cesar Moreno on September 18, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    loved the video, it is simple and straight forward

  2. Clara on August 26, 2020 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks a lot. Clear and sharp explanation.

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