Expectations Vs Reality: Collaborative Goalsetting

Expectation management is a pivotal aspect in communication and especially in business. I say this with a hint of agony, not because I see people doing it badly, but rather because clear expectations are ever part of the conversation at all.

On any given day in our beautiful society we spill so many words and lose so much time in calls, meetings, and e-mails. We wade through an ocean of unclarity without specifics. It’s ridiculous, because we don’t do it consciously.

What specific measures are you evaluating to call this a success? If I understand you correctly, is X what you are saying? These are just some of the sentences I hear not nearly enough, even though they are great in collaboration.

Employee Engagement


Although the absence of clarity is annoying in any collaborative setting like a project, sales, or management meeting, it’s pretty much destructive in a leader-employee relationship. It’s like buying running shoes and poking a hole in the sole before you step out for a run.

Setting expectations collaboratively is a big part of what we require of today’s leaders to drive employee engagement (Harter, 2017), next to ongoing feedback and regular meaningful conversations that go beyond the metrics.

Goals and Expectations


Some of you are thinking: “we set OKRs!” (objectives and key results), which is indeed a goal setting theory that can drive employee engagement and results. Practical implementations, however, are largely unsuccessful and unpopular with managers, despite many sexy tech companies using them.

What’s often missing (let’s assume a wonderful change management job was done) are two practical operational details; two additions to enable leaders to have better conversations about goals and expectations: categories (1) and linking the conversation to a personally meaningful longer-term vision (2).

  1. Categories: to make sure the conversation is grounded in added value for the company, start with categories like “business as usual”, “special projects”, and “growth”. You can change up the categories, but these work because they slice up the world of goals in a simple way. They ensure that the conversation is rounded and not merely focused on one category or the other, and also triggers employees to come up with their own ideas on how to create value for the company and the team.
  2. Personally meaningful: millenials are in town for a while my friend (Fry, 2016), rest assured. I’m sorry if this pains you, but hiring and keeping anyone in the coming decade will involve this conversation linked to something personally meaningful beyond short-term personal growth goals. Be it 2, 5, or 10 years, what kind of (very concrete or very vague — both are ok) person do they see? How can we marry this to the above?

Done? Now set a few OKRs based on that conversation and have regular conversations about them. Every quarter would be preferred, but at least twice a year at a minimum. You’d be surpised how a little more meetings will actually save you a lot more time compared to cleaning up after unclear expectations. I’ve been there :).


  • Manage expectations all the time – talk specifics, next steps, etc. in every interaction
  • Do this especially with reports and particularly in goalsetting conversations
  • OKRs are great, but add categories and link to something personally meaningful

PS: credits to Arne Van Damme for co-creating a practical approach to goalsetting targeted on increasing engagement and production.

Works Cited

Harter, J. (2017). Failed Performance Management: The Fix. Washington, D.C.: Gallup.

Fry, R. (2016). Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.