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5 Ways to Communicate Compelling Expectations Like a Boss

Legend has it that in the mid-1980’s a Midwest 3M BPSI (Business Products Sales, Inc.) General Manager was especially well known for setting crystal clear and compelling expectations of his sales managers in the field.

What on earth is a compelling expectation, you might ask?

A compelling expectation is an expectation that is written or verbalized in a way that’s easy to understand and “encourages urgent attention and action.” It’s usually very specific and more importantly, it shows the person or teams what to do right now to fulfill that expectation. 

My experience is that most managers, directors, and executives communicate anything but a compelling expectation.

For instance, imagine that it’s early on a Monday morning in the New Year; your sales team is gathered in the large conference room awaiting word from leadership about our direction and goals for 2018.

The Senior VP of Sales swings in with a flourish and delivers an enthusiastic, “Morning, team!”

“Good Morning, sir!” the team calls back loudly.

He continues, “Your job in 2018, is to get more business, sell more products and services than ever before and own your territory! We want to increase sales by 30% over last year! No excuses!”

The VP then offers a typical closed-ended question, “Are y’all with me? By a show of hands, how many of you are with me?” All hands, of course, go up! Yet, If I’m a sales professional on this team, I’m likely to agree – but to myself, when reality sinks in I’m saying, “Great. Now, how exactly am I going to get that done?”

 So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Here’s what’s missing: It offers no specifics or details to help the team know what to do or how to deliver on the expectation. Bottom line: Not compelling. Not specific and not likely to get done.

Let’s rewind back to the 3M BPSI General Manager I spoke about at the beginning of our article.

One of the GM’s verbal expectations to his managers was, “Show up for business at their respective branch at 7:00 am. No later, no exceptions!”

This GM’s reputation for clear expectations was only exceeded by his unpredictability as to when he might show up for a surprise visit at any of his branches spread out from California to the east coast.

So one Monday morning at 6:40 am he arrived at the Chicago branch office and waited at the door as the sales manager and their team arrived. For everyone who showed up on or before 7:00 am he enthusiastically peeled off a one hundred dollar bill and handed it to the employee with a sincere, “Thanks for showing up this morning!”

Anyone who was even one minute late was promptly fired on the spot.

I’d say the expectation was both clear and compelling.

And, from that day forward, what do you suspect was the behavior from the Branch Managers across the organization about showing up on time? Do you think they understood his expectation and knew precisely what to do every day to meet it?

Below are 5 ways I know will help you communicate crystal clear and compelling expectations:

1.    Be more specific: What does success look like when we’re delivering perfectly on the expectation? Insight: The more detailed you draw the picture; the easier it will be for people to deliver on the expectation. And by the way, it’s not enough to say, “Get more sales!” or “Be more professional.”

2.    Communicate what’s in it for them if they succeed in delivering on the expectation – and the consequences if they don’t. Again “paint the picture” for additional clarity and understanding.

3.    You must repeat and reinforce expectations continually, especially if they’re important. Saying it once and thinking it will get the job done is “not gonna cut it.”

4.    Deliver expectations both verbally and then follow up in writing. You know they understand the expectation when upon asking them, they can repeat it back to you along with what success looks like in doing it well.

5.    Reward and publicly celebrate when people deliver on expectations and have them share three things they did to accomplish it.

Bonus – And when you do a great job of communicating expectations, you’ll minimize your difficult conversations – because you can simply ask, “What was the expectation?”

Dennis Klemp is the CEO of St. Louis based Vision2Results Consulting specializing in delivering customer acquisition and retention processes, tools, and strategies to help leaders consistently execute Coaching Fundamentals that improve the team and individual results. Dennis can be reached for coaching or consultation at 314-517-8750 or emailed at

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Dennis Klemp

Leadership Coaching Sensei (one who has gone before; a teacher)

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