“I know what is expected of me at work.”

That is item one on Gallup’s Q12 survey of employee engagement. “I know what is expected of me at work.” The most foundational question, but only 50% of workers agree with it. Half of workers don’t know what’s expected of them.

I can’t claim superiority here because I don’t know what’s expected of me. Expected by whom? My boss? My direct reports? Our stakeholders? Our users? What about when those conflict?

Assuming the answer is “my boss” then I should still boil down all those expectations from other people and use them to tell my boss what problems we should be solving. Maybe that is my boss’s expectation? It all gets very fuzzy and circular.

And looking at it from the other side, my direct reports don’t always know what I expect of them. I think the whole premise is flawed for ICs. Managers shouldn’t expect things from ICs. They should expect things from their teams via OKRs. Then teams should self-organize, create their own expectations for each other, and keep each other accountable for them.

Creating expectations at the individual level has two big uh-ohs:

  1. It almost always feels like micromanagement to the direct report
  2. It encourages individual achievement over team achievement

In game theory, there is an interesting concept of a dominant strategy. A dominant strategy is one that is expected to return the maximum value regardless of the actions of other players. Team collaboration is not a dominant strategy. Rather, it depends on everyone participating together in good faith. If you see someone acting against the interests of the team, you, too, will likely defect to pursue your own self-interest.

Will Larson

Hence the toxic “doing what will look good on my performance review instead of what my team needs” culture of many orgs.

So I’d rephrase the question as: “I know what is expected of my team, and what my team expects of me.” How would you rate that, and why?

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