Aligning Direct Reports’ and Manager Expectations

Jully Kim

Director of Engineering Programs at Zendesk



When you are a new manager, or a manager who has obtained a new team, there are unspoken expectations that both sides have about each other that can cause unnecessary difficulties in communication. I have experienced that over time if these expectations were not explicitly addressed, instead of talking about work things we ended up getting hung up on how we actually worked together. As a result, it became crucial that outside of the skill-sets that my direct reports possessed, that we clearly identified and aligned our expectations of each other, thus, allowing a transparent avenue to express the nuances of a manager, an individual, and team experiences.

Actions taken

I created a simple yet extremely valuable manager and direct reports expectations document. It is a very personalized document that I use as a manager with all of my direct reports. It outlines what someone can expect from me as a manager, my expectations of you as a direct report, and other detailed aspects.

  • Mission Statement: I write the mission statement of our team at the top of the page. This is our priority and the number one thing that we are striving to achieve.
  • Things That I Value: These are characteristics that I value. For example, focus, openness, respect, courage, and commitment. These will vary depending on the team and the objectives that they have.
  • Manager Expectations: This is where I write out the kind of manager that I promise to be. For example, you can expect that I will be attentive. I will be available. I will keep documents about our expectations and the things that we are talking about. If you bring up a sensitive subject I vow to the best of my ability to remain sensitive about that topic. If you are remote I will make an extra effort to visit you once a quarter. These are the characteristics that I think are important to be a good manager. You can expect all of these things from me. And if I am not doing them then you have the right to call me out because those are the things that I said I would be doing as your manager.
  • Expectations of Direct Reports: These are the things that I expect from my direct reports. I expect that they should assume that I am always busy so they need to overshare everything. We should never have surprises. We need to always talk about hard things and talk about them as often as possible. I expect them to be working at one level above their title. I expect them to be culture champions. And I expect that they be thankful by regularly giving shout outs publicly, privately, by email/slack or in person.
  • The Details: For the lack of a better word, these are the logistics of how I want us to work together including when you're out of office, working from home, sick or on vacation. For example, I expect that you share your calendar with me. You can make it private to the rest of the world but you have to make it open to me. I give my direct reports my telephone number and ask if they feel comfortable to give me theirs as well. This is another means for us to stay connected. I outline procedures for when my direct reports are out of the office. I ask that they slack me every day that they are out just as a reminder to myself. Remember, you must assume that I am extremely busy. Additionally, send me a Google calendar invite with the dates that you are gone so that I have it on the top of my calendar. If you are going to be out for more than three days on vacation, then I expect that you send me an email before leaving informing me who is going to be running things and who will be taking your place in meetings. But when you are on vacation, I expect that you turn off all of your slack notifications because I really want you to rest. If I really need you then I will call you on the phone. I set those expectations because I want people to know that I don't think you should go on vacation and not be working during that time. I want you to relax, take a break, and get the rest you deserve.
  • Evaluation and Compensation Cycle: This discusses the frequency of formal reviews and performance evaluations. It incorporates formal and informal feedback, compensation changes, and promotion evaluations.
  • Names and Dates: After each discussion we have about these expectations, which is every quarter, we type our names and the date of the meeting at the bottom of the document. We use the same document every quarter so the names and dates become a running list of when we met and when we agreed upon these things. It is a documented record of our conversations.

This document has worked tremendously well for me. I started using it at my previous company and I have been using it ever since then. I have had direct reports who have moved to different managers take a copy of their document and who have asked their new manager to create something similar for their new role. It is useful for them because each manager is unique and they find it valuable to understand the expectations that the manager has of them and that they should have of that new manager.

Lessons learned

  • This document has been useful when onboarding new members onto the team. I bring this to the table in week one so that they get a sense of who I am as a manger and the expectations I have for them as an employee. I want to be clear and upfront about these expectations so that we are aligned about these matters as quickly as possible.
  • This is also very helpful for performance management. By reviewing this document each quarter with my direct reports, and having us sign and date it, we ultimately produce a running agreement about our expectations and how we want to work together. If either of us are not meeting those expectations then it is grounds for a conversation. In the unfortunate case that a direct report is not meeting their performance objectives, I reiterate our agreement and utilize the document as a sort of contract. It acts as evidence that we have had discussions revolving around this topic and that there has been fair warning of what is expected.

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Jully Kim

Director of Engineering Programs at Zendesk

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesEngineering Manager

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