The Risk of Hidden Expectations

Organizational charters, mission statements, and strategic plans – a few of the many tools organizations use to communicate their values and goals to their employees. Underneath all of these written statements lie unspoken rules and expectations about employee behavior and company operations. Unfortunately, when unaddressed, these hidden expectations result in high turnover, dissatisfied employees, and inefficient company operations.

Unspoken rules emerge from established and largely unspoken cultural norms – norms that are rarely written down or concretely communicated. Consequently, leaders often assume their employees recognize and understand these expectations, often creating confusion and dissatisfaction among both leaders and employees.

For example, imagine an organization in which it is expected employees show up a minimum of five minutes early to their shift. However, this expectation is not written or communicated to employees – it is not in the employee manual or mission statement and is simply the “way things have always been done.” However, a new employee is unaware of this expectation, showing up right on-time day in and day out. The manager gets frustrated, feeling disgruntled as the new employee is not fulfilling expectations, resulting in tension between the manager and employee. Yet, how was the new employee supposed to know his manager expected him to show up to work five minutes early without it being communicated in the first place?

Hidden expectations are a consequence of ineffective organizational communications and can ostracize employees, create feelings of incompetence, and result in inefficient teamwork. As a leader, it is imperative you identify, communicate, and emulate the expectations you have of your team members.

If you are doubting whether or not your organization has hidden rules and expectations, ask yourself the following:

  1. Do I expect my employees to complete tasks and emulate behaviors I have not directly communicated?
  2. Are there unspoken rules about how our company operates?
  3. How might these hidden expectations and rules be impacting my team, employees, and organization as a whole?

Once you have identified your company’s unwritten rules and expectations, they should be written down, communicated to your entire staff, and revisited on a regular basis. In doing so, employees understand the rules and behaviors they are expected to adhere to and allows your employees the opportunity to fulfill (or even surpass) your expectations.

Many organizations do not have the foundational common language and shared values necessary to communicate their unspoken rules and expectations. The Engineering Leadership Institute (ELI) has crafted its unique, accessible Performance Certification System (PCS) and Team Leader Guide (TLG) to help leaders and organizations cultivate the common language and shared values necessary to drive high-performing teams. Contact us today!