How to Set Expectations About How Staff Members Approach Their Work

(Not Just What They’ll Do)

In addition to understanding what they’re responsible for achieving, your staff members should also understand how you expect them to approach their work – the mindsets, behaviors, values, or modes of operating that are critical to overall success in their roles.

After all, success in a role usually goes beyond the specific activities that staff members engage in; their approach carries enormous weight too. For example, think of the difference between an office manager who fundamentally sees her role as finding ways to make life easier for the rest of the staff versus one who sees her role as simply performing a list of administrative tasks. Or, imagine the difference between a graphic designer who approaches projects with adaptability and a spirit of “yes” versus one who naysays and focuses on obstacles. Approach and mindset – the how – can make all the difference in people’s success in the role.

An easy way to talk about how staff members should approach their work is to write up role descriptions that include both the what and the how (like our example here). Doing this can help you and your staff members get aligned on expectations up front, and it can provide a basis for discussing where someone already in the role is doing well or needs to grow to meet those expectations.

Here are some examples of traits and approaches that you might want to include in the “how.” (Note that you shouldn’t include all of these – or you will have a very overwhelmed and daunted staff member! Rather, you should think carefully about the 3-5 “how’s” that are particularly key to succeeding in the role, as opposed to just being a list of traits of the perfect person or positive things that might not be truly critical to success in the role.)

1. 100% follow-through: No dropped balls! Stay on top of all specific tasks/follow-up items and general areas of work. When deadlines won’t be met, renegotiate well in advance.

2. Ownership: You care deeply about getting results in your realm, and you do what it takes to get them, including paying attention to even small details, anticipating problems, offering creative solutions, driving work forward, and course-correcting when needed.

3. Flexibility: Be ready to take advantage of unexpected opportunities; push work forward through obstacles and adapt quickly as things change.

4. Organizational leadership: Lead by example by modeling a high bar for performance and being an exemplar of our values; operate with the best interests of the organization in mind, and not simply the best interests of your team.

5. Solutions-oriented: Proactively develop solutions to challenges and push to get past roadblocks

6. Positive attitude: Approach work with a spirit of “yes”; strike a positive tone and adapt cheerfully as things change (which they inevitably will!).

7. Inclusive: We share a common mission but widely varying backgrounds; part of your job is to connect with people from all kinds of backgrounds and make sure everyone feels like they belong here.

8. Exceptional customer service orientation: We’re pretty busy here, and your job is to make it easy for staff to do their own jobs. View your work as supporting the whole by helping to make their lives as easy and straightforward as possible.

9. Coaching orientation: You take the time to teach and offer useful and actionable feedback, make sure that people feel their efforts are appreciated, and expect that people will make mistakes and see those as opportunities for learning.

10. Radical welcome: Every single person who walks in the door is welcome and has a smart role to play on the campaign. Volunteers are busy people so your job is to make it them feel appreciated and that their time is well-spent.

11. Sense of possibility: You maintain an optimistic outlook and always look for ways to make ideas work before assuming they won’t. You firmly believe that we can all do things we’ve never done before, and can stretch ourselves to achieve incredible results.

12. Relationship-Oriented: You recognize the deep importance that relationships with colleagues and allies play in our work, and you build rapport and trust with others.

13. Always learning: There’s always more to know out there, and you’re hungry for it. You absorb information from your colleagues, from your work, and from keeping up with your field. If something doesn’t make sense, you ask questions until it does, and you apply what you learn in your work!

14. Open-mindedness: You encourage (and truly welcome!) viewpoints that differ from your own, and you’re able to “sit with” discomfort when people express themselves in ways that aren’t familiar to you.

15. Action-Oriented: Your bias is toward getting things done. That doesn’t mean that you don’t gather appropriate information first, but you drive work forward with an urgency to see results.