Expectation alignment requires regular authentic communication to ensure employees and leaders are on the same page
Without regular expectation alignment unmet employee expectations can lead to lower motivation and employee engagement. New hires are seldom disengaged if they are on-boarded effectively. With an effective on-boarding programme new hires tend to have clear expectations and remain engaged. The first few weeks are critical for retention and engagement of talent. Without clear communication, guidance, support and an effective on-boarding programme new hires often decide to leave within the first few weeks.
Expectation alignment helps employees uncover and clarify their expectations about your organisation, before it impacts their performance.
Employee expectations are formed before they even begin work. As potential employees browse your website, speak with a recruiter, read Glassdoor reviews or hear about your organisation at a social gathering they are building expectations about your organisation. The expectation gap can begin to widen with a shaky start or only after a few months as their actual experiences deviate from what they expected. As they experience your culture and values first hand (comparing your stated brand to the reality), see how people are supported or ignored, listen to the water cooler gossip, or watch how their leader behave they either confirm their expectations or widen the gap.
Elements that impact employee expectations:
1. Employer brand
Your brand is an implied promise of what employees can expect from your culture and at work. How your brand values translate into actual day to day behaviours helps create your employee experience. When the gap between your published employer brand and your employee experience is too wide expectations becomes muddled and disengagement increases. However, when we live our values as leaders, demonstrate we care about our employees, and show that we value them we can reinforce our brand.
2. Rumours and media
One of the most dangerous ways expectations shift is through rumours and water cooler stories. Without expectation alignment negative rumours about layoffs, or even potentially positive stories about a potential public offering, can lead to an expectation shift. This can lead to panic or create unrealistic expectations. Both types of rumour can be damaging and impact employee behaviour/expectations. Employees kept in the dark about changes tend to speculate and become nervous. We are not the only source of information in a highly connection social world, the question is where do you want your team to learn about what is happening?
3. Infrequent/poor performance conversations
Once a year is not enough to help create clear expectations and confidence in your brand. Poor employee expectations often develop as a result of unclear or vague communication. When employees are unsure of what is expected of them, what will happen or how they are able to contribute to the organisation’s success expectations become misaligned. Do your employees know what you expect of them? Do they know how they contribute to the overall success of the organisation? Do they know what they have done well, what they could improve?
Employees will compare their work experience to the perceived experience of their colleagues. This perception is not always true, but based on what we see and how we interpret what we see. When our experience and our perception clash our expectation gap widens. e.g. A colleague hired in the same month (someone we feel does less work) gets a bonus while we do not will lead to an expectation shift. These comparisons are not just about issues that directly impact us either. Seeing a manager in a different department yell at someone (embarrassing them) may shift our perspective on leadership in the organisation (even though our direct supervisor may never do that).
Expectation alignment requires regular clear communication, candour and demonstrating that you care.
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