Agreed Expectations

Written by: Alan Rodway - Your Coach Online

Organisational Success, People and Performance

Problem Causes

Too many problems that arise for businesses are caused by a lack of agreed expectations.  Disgruntled employees, difficult suppliers, unhappy customers, disconnected advisers, ineffective alliances, etc. are often the result of this.  Too much of what needs to be fixed come back to a failure to establish agreed expectations, either at the start of a relationship or during the relationship.   The importance of handling this well can not be over emphasized.

Fundamentally expectations can only be agreed at one of two points in time:  at the start, and this is obviously preferable, or sometimes into the relationship when it is realised they don’t actually exist.  Whilst the exercise of establishing agreed expectations at both points in time is difficult it is easier to agree on them at the outset rather than after a relationship has commenced, given history is already in play.  It has to be said though that sometimes expectations will not be able to be agreed, no matter how pure the discussions, and that may mean that a working relationship should not be entered or continue to exist.

No one sets out to not have agreed expectations.  It’s that expectations are not given the attention at the outset that they require, which then leads to problems down the line.  To discuss all expectations at the outset takes both parties into the realm of ‘possible’ rather than what’s ‘real’ right now and therefore some things don’t seem as though they need to be discussed.  That’s why they are so often missed.

As a rule of thumb and a very strong one, all expectations should be discussed face to face, with everyone involved.  Having conversations about future behaviours and processes is difficult enough, let alone removing the opportunity for real human interaction.

Even when expectations are agreed, it is still necessary to review them from time to time.  It’s not a perfect world and human behaviour is not a perfect science, so the fact that agreed expectations exist at one point in time does not mean they will continue to exist into the future.  Noticing signs they are wearing away is important, to then revisit whatever is necessary at those times.

There are many types of entity that a business interacts with and it’s critical to have agreed expectations with all of them.  The actions required are twofold:

  1. Determine honestly if agreed expectations exist for each entity;
  2. Act to establish them where they don’t.

Each entity is dealt with separately below to address specifics for each as well as to give some real world examples.


Employees are dealt with first because they can help establish agreed expectations with other entities and/or rectify situations where they don’t exist.  If agreed expectations don’t exist with employees they may become part of the problem rather than the solution.

At the very least, expectations with employees have to be agreed for:

  • performance measurement,
  • performance management (formal and informal, including the giving and receiving of feedback),
  • remuneration (current as well as future possibilities),
  • equity possibilities,
  • non-remunerative forms of recognition,
  • dealing with problems / dissatisfaction,
  • connection to what the business believes (i.e. the business’s Why),
  • career advancement processes,
  • work hours beyond those formally required,
  • election of other employees, especially colleagues for an employee,
  • putting forward of ideas.

Any one of these aspects can cause problems for an employee and/or the business.  It’s also the ‘unwritten rules’ in a business that sometimes cause employees problems over time.  As stated above, if discussions on any/some/all of these aspects prior to someone commencing with a business prove (too) difficult then it may well be better not to go ahead.  As also stated above, there will be many people reading this (business owners and employees) whose brains are triggered by one or more of the aspects listed that have not been agreed and that has possibly become a problem … there is no choice but to address that now, as difficult as that may be and wherever that may lead.  Having real conversations is part of a high performance and someone has to initiate them.

Employees and businesses that have agreed on expectations of each other are way more likely to be successful … finding solutions, getting the work done, coming up with new ideas, etc.


Customers are dealt with second because they obviously provide the revenue to the business to pay for everyone/everything else.

Expectations with customers have to be agreed for, at least:

  • what is being provided (including what it is, what it does, what it does not do, how long it lasts, warranties),
  • total price (meaning not just the cost of the item but all add ons, including in future),
  • delivery/provision methods and timing,
  • dealing with problems/dissatisfaction, including recourse,
  • communication with the business (including timing and forms),
  • connection to what the business believes.

It would be fair to suggest that customer dissatisfaction is largely the result of the customer having different expectations to the business, not intentionally but accidentally.  As time-consuming as it may be for some businesses to agree on expectations with customers at the outset (re the training of staff and the time it takes to communicate properly with the customer), it’s just too important not to do so and it’s a highly effective investment in future success.  An initial purchaser can become a repeat customer, an advocate or a critic of the business.

Colleagues and Associates

We talked above about employees and, whilst colleagues and associates may also fit into the same category, it’s worth mentioning them specifically given their slightly different nature.  The point is that seniority and authority do not formally exist over a colleague nor an associate so the working relationship can quickly run into problems if expectations are not agreed.  When people are left to find their own way through how they work together, how decisions are made, etc. it can be ineffective, so the business should formally initiate the conversations and agreements.

Suppliers, Providers

As with customers, businesses must have full agreement with suppliers and providers, at least for:

  • what is being provided (including what it is, what it does, what it does not do, how long it lasts, warranties),
  • total price (meaning not just the cost of the item but all add ons, including in future),
  • delivery/provision methods and timing,
  • dealing with problems/dissatisfaction, including recourse,
  • communication with the business (including timing and forms),
  • connection to what the business believes,
  • feedback,
  • input from the business into future design of what’s being provided.

Many businesses engage sponsors at various times.  For privately owned or smaller businesses, these times may be infrequent and there may not be a lot of money involved … but reputation is on the line when any type of sponsorship is involved, both for the sponsor and for the business, so agreeing expectations is very important.

Agreement with a sponsor must be in place at least for:

  • nature of the sponsorship (money, signage, provision of resources, time, speakers, etc.),
  • when the sponsorship is being provided,
  • how the sponsorship is being provided,
  • feedback (medium and nature) to each other during and after the ‘event’,
  • intentions/possibilities for ongoing or repeat sponsorship and the criteria for those decisions,
  • measurement of success of the ‘event’,
  • exclusion or inclusion of other sponsors,
  • the business’s obligations to the sponsor (formal and informal).

Many businesses use advisers in areas such as tax accounting, bookkeeping, structures, product development, marketing, coaching, mentoring, risk management, etc.  Given that an ‘adviser’ sits outside the business it’s too easy to just have them rather than engage them effectively.  The latter will only occur if expectations of each other are clear, including at least:

  • the scope of the advice (areas of the business, issues),
  • when advice is to be sourced/given,
  • how advice is to be given,
  • feedback on advice and actions taken,
  • information flows between the adviser and the business,
  • information flows between advisers,
  • measurement of the effectiveness of advisers,
  • total cost and how it will be calculated,
  • dealing with dissatisfaction from either party.

Many businesses have alliances with other businesses.  For example, accountants with financial planners; medical practices with other medical practices; trades with other trades.

Agreement with an alliance must be in place at least for:

  • are referrals to be a part of the alliance?
  • are referrals to be two way?
  • how are referrals to be to be given?
  • what reward or incentive will be in place for referrals?
  • feedback between the businesses re how the alliance is working,
  • formal and informal meetings to take place, how often and who should attend,
  • ability for either business to take on other (competing?) alliances,
  • points of contact within each business,
  • measurement of success of the alliance, and when it’s to occur.

Many businesses have referrers, informally or formally.  Word of mouth is still a powerful form of marketing.  Where referrers are in place or may be, the following must be agreed, at least:

  • recognition to the referrer (which can be tangible or a Thank You),
  • feedback to the referrer,
  • information to the referrer (about products and the business),
  • an ability for a referrer to input to the business,
  • connection to what the business believes.

There is not much worse for a referrer who, with all good intent, refers someone to a business, only to hear nothing back about the outcome.  That’s really dumb business.


Every business should be aware of the expectations that their community has of them.  This is probably a one way set of expectations, but validly so, we think.  Any business that gets out of favour with its community is likely to suffer commercially.  So, at least the following agreements should be upheld by the business, for its community:

  • protection/enhancement of the physical environment,
  • fair and equitable treatment of people,
  • responsible marketing,
  • useful/valuable products,
  • support of the community,
  • the input to the community,
  • source, accept and act on valid feedback from the community,
  • information to the community.

In an age where community responsible business has become more important, it’s vital for a business to communicate well with its community, has agreed expectations, and abides by them.  And, ‘community’ may spread far and wide now for many businesses.

In Summary

Whether or not a business has agreed on expectations with all entities it deals with will be a matter of degree and one that changes continuously over time.  The point is that every business should have high-level awareness and processes in place to continuously create and monitor agreed expectations … or suffer the consequences from any number of the above groups.

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