Clarify Your Non-Negotiable Management Expectations in Six Steps

Even if we don’t realize it, we all have management expectations, standards, and rules. Deeply rooted in our values, these behaviors, actions, and thoughts influence how we manage others.

For example, if we value timeliness, we expect meeting attendees to be punctual. If we value collaboration and teamwork, we expect others to engage fully in discussion-based brainstorming activities.

To clarify our “non-negotiable” management expectations, we must first identify what we value. These six steps will help get you there.


Step 1. Identify Your Core Values

If you are fortunate enough to have participated in a formal assessment process that identifies your values, you are ahead of the game. If not, take a moment to identify three core values that guide how you live and work. Core values are strong and unwavering. They show up in every part of your life and are usually well rooted. For example, if you value continuous learning, you always seek resources and situations that challenge you to stretch your intellect or knowledge base. If you value helping others grow and develop, you devote time to serving others. If you value generating a return on your investment of time, talents, and resources, you spend your time on practical matters. Once you have identified your core values, record at least three of them.

Step 2. Brainstorm Your Management Pet Peeves
Most managers have fun with this step. Write down the things that drive you crazy about other people. For example, it may irk you when people show up late for meetings or when meetings drag on as moderators unnecessarily seek everyone’s feedback and thoughts. Perhaps you get frustrated when uncreative people rush to conclusions without considering every angle of an issue. Maybe you get antsy when others fail to take the lead, need a lot of handholding, or otherwise fail to accomplish goals. Write down a minimum of seven pet peeves.

Step 3. Sort Your Pet Peeves and Identify a Theme
Review your list of pet peeves, looking for a theme connected to one of your core values. Often, people who are driven by a “utilitarian” value (a desire to use time, talents, and resources effectively), go nuts when others are tardy, fail to use time effectively, or simply lollygag. People who are driven by a “social” value (a desire to help others grow and develop) tend to get frustrated when others rush through the collaboration process, overlooking important opportunities for teamwork. Once you identify a theme or two, reflect on the most important. Typically, these are non-negotiables. Once you have identified your theme (the core value connected to your pet peeves), write it down.

Step 4. Identify Your Non-Negotiable Management Standards
Now it’s time to design your non-negotiable management standards. Be specific. Avoid making broad generalizations. Review your list and set three or four non-negotiable standards to which you will hold yourself and others accountable. One of mine is punctuality. Because “on time” means different things to different people, I as a manager am unequivocal about punctuality. I once had an assistant who considered it acceptable to arrive 10 minutes late for business meetings and events. To counter this behavior, one of the non-negotiable management standards at my office is “punctuality.” We expect all team members to show up early or on time for meetings and events. Should a unique situation occur, we expect employees to notify the office when they will arrive. We explain why punctuality is important, providing context to the standard and helping new team members see the value in punctuality. It reflects our company’s core utilitarian value: Using time, talents, and resources effectively.

Step 5. Identify Consequences for Sidestepping Non-Negotiables
Unfortunately, stated expectations do not necessarily generate perfect results. We need to consistently reinforce expectations. Team members may test our commitment to non-negotiables; it is our job to communicate the consequences for sidestepping them. Make sure consequences match non-negotiables. For example, at our company, the consequence for habitual tardiness is employment termination. Punctuality is such an important value for our business that we have assigned it the most severe consequence. For less-critical non-negotiables, we assign less-severe consequences. Thanks to our values and clearly stated non-negotiables, we attract timely, independent, take-charge employees. Take a moment to write down fair and appropriate consequences for breaking your non-negotiables.

Step 6. Communicate Your Non-Negotiables
It’s now time to share your non-negotiables with your team. If you are hesitant to do so, don’t despair. Most of us are unaccustomed to clearly stating our expectations. We may never have verbalized our standards and expectations before. Interestingly, when managers share their non-negotiables, team members typically aren’t surprised. They find it helpful to know what is expected of them, so they can hold themselves accountable. Non-negotiable standards eliminate uncomfortable performance-related conversations and reduce the need for conflict resolution. If you feel brave, try applying non-negotiables to your personal relationships as well.

If your non-negotiables and consequences are articulated clearly, your team will experience a sense of relief.