Set Expectations Early and Often

Study these dos and don'ts to create an office environment of accountability.

December 11, 2013

Whether you’re brand new to your role or you’ve been a broker for decades, it is important to set expectations with your agents early and often. It removes ambiguity and increases accountability.

Follow these dos and don’ts to help you set clear expectations for your associates.


  1. State (or restate) your expectations out loud. Don’t expect your agents to just know what you’re thinking. Tell them: “Here’s the kind of coach/broker that I’m going to be for you, and here’s what I expect from you.” Whether it’s your first day or your thousandth, do this ASAP.
  2. Every day, remind your team of at least one of the behaviors you expect and why it is important. Be consistent and this information will remain top-of-mind.
  3. Institute accountability quickly. When expectations have been broken (on either side), there needs to be an immediate examination of accountability to get the relationship back on track. If you wait too long, you risk losing engagement, credibility, and trust. You also risk being perceived as having lowered your standards.
  4. Maintain, maintain, maintain. Once you’ve set up the initial expectations, make sure to follow through. It’s like car maintenance. A car will fail if you just drive it without taking it in for oil changes, new tires, and whatever else it might need. One day, it’s going to blow up on the side of the road. A car on fire is no use to anyone, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise when you’re 40,000 miles overdue for an oil change.
  5. Terminate when needed. When patterns emerge and the adjustments and recommitments don’t work, then you’re going to have to let some people go. But setting expectations and following through will lower the need. Hint: If one of your agents is surprised by being fired, it’s your fault. It means you didn’t do your part by constantly maintaining your expectations or by making adjustments and recommitments when necessary. 


  1. Disrespect your team members’ knowledge and past experience. Dismissing a person’s experience devalues them and discredits you.
  2. Delay setting expectations, thinking, “I’m just going to get to know them first.” This is a big mistake. Huge. Don’t do it. By nature, people will push the boundaries to determine where you stand. If you try to tighten up after the boundaries have been wide, it will be a lot harder than it would have been to just institute the right boundaries in the first place.
  3. Ease in. Similar to above, if you start out one way and then take a different course, you’ll end up facing an uphill battle because your team will feel like you’ve changed the rules on them.

Sometimes, when you’re implementing a new system, it can be helpful to reflect upon how you’ve seen such systems work or fail in other institutions. Have other organizations that you’ve worked with set expectations up front? Did those expectations come with a sense of who was accountable and for what? Was there a balance between praise and the search for accountability?

Now that you know the dos and don’ts of setting expectations, you’re ready to apply what you’ve learned to your office environment. This next week, pay attention to your team’s dynamic and determine if you need to set or reset expectation with any or all of your agents. And don’t forget the most important part: Hold each agent accountable to the expectations you have set.

Jason Forrest is a sales trainer, management coach, member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group, and author of three books, including his latest, Leadership Sales Coaching. Learn more at