Three Tips About Managing Expectations

By Risa Fogel

CIOs are called upon to be many things to their constituents today. The role has evolved from one that primarily involves possessing great technical knowledge to one that requires a potent mix of technical, business and influencing skills. Regardless of the required expertise, one of the most important skills of a CIO is the ability to communicate—both to key business colleagues at all levels of the organization and to the organization’s employees. At times these communications will involve delivering a message that the recipient or recipients do not want to hear. A missed project deadline, the implementation of stricter security policies, or an employee passed over for a promotion—all of these workplace situations require explaining a disappointing “why” to someone who expects or wants a different outcome. In such cases, the ability to manage and set realistic expectations can clarify a situation from the outset and create a path for producing the best possible outcome.

Here are three tips about managing and setting expectations in the workplace:  

Outline a strategy and set clear objectives.
Whether initiating a new project or creating an IT strategy, the focus should be on enabling the business and partnering with it to reach established outcomes. Although a business case may be developed at a high level, you will need to break it down into practical, attainable activities. It is important that you set clear objectives and outcomes for what will be accomplished, plus a general timeline identifying deliverables and milestones.

Equally important to setting expectations is to explain to the stakeholders what will not be delivered. Too often people rely on silence to create their own expectations. You may not have said the new ERP system would replace all existing legacy applications, but if you didn’t say that it won’t, your CFO might come to her own conclusions about what the ERP system should and shouldn’t be able to do. Being explicit in both what will be delivered, as well as what will not be delivered, is a key factor in setting clear expectations.

Understand organizational realitiesand adjust accordingly.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to apply best practices to every project or initiative. Some organizations are immature from a process standpoint, and there will be times that, due to political or financial realities, you will need to move forward with an initiative without all of the pieces being in place. You need to be able to quickly adapt to these challenges, staying focused on your strategy but making adjustments as needed. As you identify necessary changes, communicate early and collaborate with your business colleagues before putting any changes into action.

Governance committees are an excellent forum for these types of discussions, giving you an opportunity to share decisions regarding major directional changes with the primary stakeholders, and providing them with a sense of shared ownership for success.

Understand and appreciate your employees’ expectations.
Similar to needing to manage your business colleagues, you need to ensure that you are managing the different expectations of your IT employees. People need work guidelines about the level of independence they have for decision making, how success will be measured, and what they need to deliver in order to advance to the next level.

Every employee is different, but you need to give enough open dialogue so that they are not left wondering what you expect from them. You also need to provide continuous feedback, ensuring that they understand what they are doing well and what they are not doing so well.

Lastly, understand and appreciate your employees’ professional expectations. Their values and career goals may not be in alignment with yours, but you need to ensure that you are meeting, to the best of your ability, their aspirations and needs in the workplace and guiding them on a path that is mutually acceptable to both them and the organization.

About the Author

Risa Fogel is a senior managing director at Cushman & Wakefield where she is responsible for global business solutions. She has led global transformation efforts and is experienced in working with public, private and governmental organizations. Fogel is a former president and trustee for the New Jersey Chapter of the Society for Information Management. You can follow Fogel on Twitter via

To read her previous CIO Insight article, “Three Steps to Improving Business-IT Alignment,” click here.

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