Aligning expectations will help to reduce misunderstandings and conflict

By Elisabeth Goodman, 16th July 2018

If we don’t know what is expected of us, it can be hard to deliver it!

No matter how informal the management practices may be in your organisation, there will come a point when someone will query what it is that you are there to do and whether you have delivered it.  That someone might be you, in a conversation with your line or project manager, or your line or project manager in a conversation with you!

We work with fast-growing Biotechs, and also with more Library and Information groups in more established organisations.  The formality of their management practices varies enormously in both, but discussions invariably arise which reflect some lack of clarity about expected roles.

Such lack of clarity might result in:

  1. Expected tasks not being completed, or not being completed on time
  2. Unnecessary work being done on tasks that are not required
  3. Lack of recognition of work that exceeds what would otherwise be expected of someone
  4. Stress for and conflict amongst any of the parties involved

There are a number of tools available to help manage expectations

Tools for managing expectations
Aligning expectations will help to reduce misunderstandings and conflict. Slides from RiverRhee’s courses for those who are new to management.

Job descriptions define baseline expectations for roles and responsibilities

Job descriptions used to be a standard tool in organisations to define the expectations of someone’s role at work.  They are still generally used as the basis for recruitment, but are not always maintained as a reference point for ongoing roles.  So it’s not unusual for delegates on our courses not to have a job description, or for it to be out-of-date or not specific to their role.

Those with an HR role in small Biotechs often struggle with having the time or expertise to document all the roles in an organisation – so we often suggest that individuals and/or their managers have a go at drafting their job descriptions.   Those without job descriptions in larger organisations could also consider doing this.

Even a draft job description can act as a starting point for agreeing expectations.

Objectives document and facilitate discussions about more transient responsibilities

Again, the organisations that we work with have variable practices around objective setting.  Done well, they can be used for managing shifting expectations during the course of a year.

Whereas job descriptions define broad areas of responsibility for an individual, objectives reflect new areas of activity, opportunities for improvement, and more transient responsibilities that may come and go.

So, for example, a scientist with responsibilities in a particular therapeutic area, or for particular types of assays, may have an objective to investigate the feasibility of moving into a new therapeutic area, to develop new or improved assays or to develop relationships with a new client

Similarly, an information scientist with responsibility for supporting a particular customer group may have an objective to identify good practices for extension to another customer group, or to develop a new type or product or service.

How objectives are defined will vary from one organisation to another, but some form of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) acronym is commonly adopted.

Whilst setting objectives can be challenging, as they generally evolve over the year, not documenting them will create even more challenges in terms of meaningful discussions about expectations and what has been achieved.

Project charters ensure that individuals, their line managers and project managers are all aligned on expectations

This RiverRhee newsletter (A second look at Project Management), also referenced the use of project charters.  Such charters can take a variety of forms, but the key is to include unambiguous details of who is expected to do what, and by when.

Again, these details are likely to change over the course of the project, but they act as an agreed starting point to facilitate conversations amongst all those involved.


This is the second blog in a series that will be covering all the different modules of RiverRhee’s management courses, in the run down to our next courses in September 2018. (You can read the first blog – Management is about more than just getting the job done! here…)

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

Keep an eye on RiverRhee’s website for details of our upcoming courses for managers and teams.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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