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Boss’s Tip of the Week #17: Behavioral Expectations: How To Direct the How of the Job

Here is the latest installment of the Boss’s Tip of the Week.  This advice column for managers is brought to you by Bob Rosner and Allan Halcrow, co-authors of The Boss’s Survival Guide.

We’ve all faced enough cold soup and rude service to know that simply getting food to the table isn’t enough. That’s why it’s important to establish behavioral expectations. Although job descriptions explain the what of the job, be sure to clarify the how. And when you do, clarify the how from two perspectives: how to do the job, and how to interact with you:
 
Tell your employees what the job demands. Given enough time, most employees will figure out what’s expected by watching what happens around them. It’s more efficient—and kinder—to simply spell it out. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t even assume that food servers know how often they should check with diners or that accurate orders are critical. In addition to setting expectations relative to each task outlined in the employee’s job description, be prepared to discuss the following:

• Will employees routinely be required to work extra hours? Are those extra hours scheduled predictably or unpredictably? How much notice will employees have?
 
• How flexible are employees’ work schedules?
 
• Will the employee be required to travel? How often? For how long? To where?
 
• Are employees permitted to telecommute? Under what circumstances?
 
• How is vacation time scheduled? How far in advance should employees plan? How often are requests approved?
 
• Are employees expected to check voice mail or e-mail on weekends or after hours?
 
• How do employees get assignments? Formally? Informally?
 
• How often are performance reviews conducted? Are they done on time?
 
• What is the culture of the organization? 

Make it clear that duties and requirements are subject to change.
 
Tell employees how to win. Employees are not mind readers. Most will willingly adjust to your preferences if they know what they are. Consider what’s really important to you. Think about the following:

• Personal space: Do you object to employees leaving things on your desk? Taking things from your desk? Rearranging things on your desk?
 
• Time: Do you value uninterrupted stretches of time? Prefer quiet mornings when you first arrive? Prefer quiet evenings just before you leave?
 
• Communication: Do you prefer structured meetings or impromptu conversations in the hall? Prefer voicemail, e-mail, or notes on your chair? Expect employees to check in while they are on the road, or to save information until they are back in the office? Interrupt you if your family calls?
 
• Status reports: How often do you want to hear from people? Do you only want to hear when the project is complete, or do you want progress reports? Do you only want progress reports if a problem occurs? Is “fine” an acceptable answer when you ask how things are going, or do you want specifics?

These questions have no right or wrong answers. The point simply is to set employees’ expectations.
 
Show that you respect employees by asking what’s important to them. You can’t accommodate every foible, but you can accommodate many, and why keep doing something that you know drives someone crazy?
 
Real World Example
 
An executive once told this story about one of his employees. From the day he was hired, the employee made it a habit of meeting with his boss first thing in the morning. Dependably, he would spot the boss coming through the front door and then follow him to his office. Then, while the boss took off his coat and turned on the computer, the employee would start asking questions, updating the boss on progress, and so on. The employee was smart, reliable, and productive—the sort of employee we all hope to have, but he was driving his boss crazy.
 
The boss had always cherished the first hours of his morning. When he arrived at work, he used that time to enjoy his coffee and plan the day. He saw the time as valuable thinking time, and the employee had ruined it. Eventually, the boss began to dread the morning and resent the employee.
 
When he couldn’t take it any more, the executive shared his frustration. The employee, of course, was surprised and wondered why nothing had been said before. Together, they devised a new rule: The boss was to be left undisturbed each morning until 9:00. After that, the employee, who valued face time with the boss, was in the boss’s office each day precisely at 9:00. Still, it was a solution they could both live with.

Boss’s Tip of the Week #17: Behavioral Expectations: How To Direct the How of the Job
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