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Manager Expectations: How to Set Good Expectations Clearly & Early

The Importance of Defining Clear Expectations for Managers

Nothing sets managers up to fail more than expecting that they “just manage” on top of the role they were already doing. Unfortunately, I often hear company executives say things like, “Well that’s what the raise is for!” or “I managed to squeeze it all in when I was a manager - they just need to work some nights and weekends!”

In reality: great people management takes time – time you and your company must account for if you want your managers and teams to be successful. The general rule of thumb is that people managers should be dedicating between 5-10% of their time toward each direct report they have. 10 direct reports? You just used up 100% of your manager's time. Don't expect them to be able to execute on top of that.

I wish this declaration was enough to convince skeptical leaders, but I can tell you from experience that it isn’t.

What does change minds, though, is asking company leadership to list out the specific tasks and expectations they have of managers within their company.

This documentation highlights how time-consuming people management truly is, plus

  1. Allows potential managers to understand exactly what the role entails before they accept (or decline) the offer, saving everyone time and stress.

  2. Creates a more consistent employee experience across the organization, assuming all managers adhere to the expected practices.

As you can see, the payoff can be major for everyone - but that doesn’t make the process of documenting it any less daunting!

I recommend breaking it into two steps:

1. Define the levels of management within your current organization

This can be by title (manager, director, VP), or you can create your own categories to place people managers into (manager I, II, III). Understanding and defining these levels is the first step in clarifying expectations.

2. Brainstorm current-state expectations for people managers in your organization

  • Are managers in your company required to hold 1:1s with their team members? If so, are these 1:1s weekly, biweekly, or monthly?

  • What about hiring? Are managers required to write job descriptions or to interview candidates? Are they involved in sourcing? Are they part of headcount management?

  • How is performance management handled? Do managers give continuous performance feedback or have you established annual performance reviews?

  • Some of you are already overwhelmed. And I get it. There’s a lot to unpack. But imagine a culture that prioritizes clear expectations for all managers! I can promise you the effort is worth the end result.

Luckily, you don’t have to start from scratch!

In this guide to setting manager expectations, you’ll get access to a matrix pre-populated with dozens of potential tasks and responsibilities. Read on for full directions, including a “no excuses” quick start activity to get started with first.

What should managers be responsible for?

Defining the role of a manager at your unique workplace is a big deal. It can feel intimidating, in an omg-this-is-gonna-take-forever, why-even-bother-starting?? kind of way. I get it. This could easily creep into a months-long project.

That’s why it’s so important to just start. Set a timer for 30 minutes and do as much as you can. This is not the day to pick apart leadership levels, stress over that one employee with the “unique” title you don’t know how to classify, or wonder how this could look different for different departments.

Open the exercise, make a copy, take a deep breath, and go for it.

You've got this.

1. Assess current manager responsibilities

(The “Part 1: Top Three” Tab)

This is where I encourage you to spend 30 minutes sometime this week. Block it on your calendar now so you don’t forget.

In the worksheet, write for 5-10 minutes and brainstorm all of the management responsibilities currently practiced at your organization. Need something to get the juices flowing?

Click into the tab titled “Part 3: Responsibilities Matrix” for a long list of possibilities.

Evaluate which responsibilities are shared by all

  • Is this responsibility shared by all people managers (from executives through your newest managers) or is it specific to a particular level of management

  • Of the shared responsibilities, which three are the most important for people managers to understand and practice consistently?

  • Capture those three responsibilities in the dedicated section, along with any clarifications or important notes. And then do a little happy dance, because you just got your first clarity snapshot!

Now ask:

  • Are these three responsibilities clear to your people managers?

  • Does each manager have the training and support they need to accomplish them?

2. People Management Leveling

The next step in defining expectations is to get clear on the different levels of people management within your organization.

Leveling can be

  • By title (manager, director, VP) or;

  • Create your own leveling categories to place people managers into (manager I, II, III)

How to do management leveling

  1. We recommend starting this activity by listing the job titles of everyone who is currently a people manager within the organization. You do not have to clarify by specialty, just by level.

    1. For example, you wouldn't list "Director, Sales" and "Director, Customer Success," but rather just Director.

    2. That said, if one was a Sr. Director, then you'd want to list both Director and Senior Director as titles.

  2. Once you've listed all current roles, spend some time reflecting on any roles that obviously share the same or similar management responsibilities. If you're not sure, you can skip this step.

Important Note: DO NOT let leveling be what stops you from defining management responsibilities! You can always start by defining company-wide management expectations and then build leveling into it down the road.

3. Responsibilities Matrix

The Responsibilities Matrix is your chance to reflect on what expectations you have for people managers of all levels within your organization.

  • In the first column, you'll find a list of potential responsibilities your people managers may be tasked with.

  • In the first row, you'll have populated a list of the different people management titles or groups within your organization.

  • For each role or group, work down the list of responsibilities, checking off every row that applies.

  • Next to the checkmark, you can make a note of how often this task is required. Some tasks may be co-owned by a manager and the people ops team.

  • If managers have any responsibility in the task, we recommend clarifying what that is through the wording, instead of skipping it altogether.

Of course, feel free to add, delete, and edit this resource to make it work for your needs! We hope it provides a great start point for defining clear management expectations within your organization!

And if you're ready for the next step in aligning all of your managers to these values, learn how you can do so affordably with our comprehensive manager training.

Employees gather to brainstorm current manager responsibilities in thier organization. Five staff gather around a poster with a responsibilities matrix for managers. Download the template here.

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