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Success starts when you set expectations

Success Starts When You Set Expectations

It can be a little daunting to take on a new role, especially when it’s at a higher level than the roles you’ve previously held. 

And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been promoted internally, or you’ve been appointed from outside the company: you need to set strong expectations right from the get go. It’s really important to stamp your mark on the role early. People need to know what to expect from you. 

Whenever I found myself in that situation, I would call the team together to talk about what’s important to me, and to outline my expectations: this was my first opportunity to set the tone, the pace and the standard for my new team. For me, the broad messaging usually went something like this: 

I’m driven first and foremost by results, and the culture I’m going to create is a no blame, no excuses culture. 

We will relentlessly pursue excellence and, make no mistake, I’m going to set some pretty high standards… I know everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and different levels of ambition… but we all need to be individually accountable for meeting the minimum acceptable standard. 

That’s what’s going to make this a winning team but, even more than that, it’s the thing that’s going to help you to be your best. It’s going to open up an incredible range of opportunities for your future career. You’ll grow quickly and build your confidence and capability like never before. 

I expect every single one of us to put the organization first, then the team… and if you can do that, your own best interests are going to be satisfied in the process. 

You’ll have plenty of open ground to run in. So you’re going to get loads of autonomy and empowerment, but just remember, you’ve got to be an adult. 

That means, if you have problems, you have to come to me early. If something’s going pear shaped, I need to know about it quickly. So the rule of thumb for me is, bad news by rocket, good news by rickshaw.” 

That’s the typical opening speech I’d give to a senior leadership team that I was taking over. Of course, these messages are a little more direct than I’d give to a more junior audience, because I knew I was dealing with people who had already demonstrated some level of independence, autonomy, and competence. But, you can still use a variant of that type of messaging at lower levels, regardless of team size, location, or industry… like anything in the world of leadership, you just need to tailor it to fit the context. 

As much as these early communication opportunities are important, it’s even more critical to follow up with one-on-ones in the early days and weeks of a new role. These will give you the opportunity to learn as much as you possibly can about each individual… and they’ll  also give you an opportunity to reiterate your expectations and focus. 

The 1:1s provide the forum for working out whether you have the capability you need in each role, and it’s also a lot easier to give more tailored messages in a one-on-one setting. 

I’d save my best work for these 1:1 sessions, which were eyeball to eyeball. So I’d say things like, “Look, if you want to perform at your best and deliver exceptional results, you’re going to love working for me. But I’ve got to be honest with you, there are lots of easier jobs than working for me. If you’re looking for an easy life, you’re going to struggle, because I expect you to bring your A-game every day. If you choose to work for me, I’m not going to let you be mediocre.”

I’d also be really open about my strengths and weaknesses, and I’d specifically tell them how I intended to approach my own growth and development with this new portfolio. By the end of my career, I was pretty much across every business and functional discipline, at least in a high-level way. Being open about this was an opportunity to demonstrate both my competence and my fallibility, in a genuine way.

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