What to do when you don't know what's expected at work

man determining career expectationsIn the modern workplace, most employees are “knowledge workers.” While there’s no clear definition of a knowledge worker, they’re generally considered to be people who think for a living. Knowledge workers provide new and creative solutions for their companies, make judgments on how to attack a particular problem, or distribute their knowledge to others in a useful format. As the name implies, knowledge workers are valued for what they know and how they apply that knowledge.

The problem with the influx of knowledge work in today’s workplace is that expectations can be unclear, making it difficult for a knowledge worker to direct their time and effort and for a manager of knowledge workers to measure their results. So, what do you do if you’re not sure of what is expected of you and how to prove your value to your boss?

Seek to understand the big picture

When your primary capital is what you know, you must understand, broadly, how best to apply your expertise. In other words, you need to understand why what you know is valuable to your organization. This helps you decide which knowledge to utilize and how to have the most effect for your team or organization.

To do this, you need to understand how your organization works, what its goals are, and how it intends to achieve those goals. This deeper insight into your organization will help you leverage your knowledge to provide creative, useful and efficient solutions to the problem at hand.

As an added bonus, the more you understand about your organization, the more connected you’ll feel to it and the more engaged you’ll be in your work – which all leads to more satisfaction with your job!

Create your own set of expectationsWoman determining career goals and what's expected of her

With the rise of knowledge work, expectations about work performance can be cryptic. In the industrial age, it was easy to tell if someone was meeting their expectations – there were typically quotas set for production or time spent making each widget. But with today’s work, it’s not that clear. Job descriptions rarely involve measurable expectations (i.e., able to type at least 85 wpm), and focus more on qualities rather than quantities.

Because of this new reality, it’s on you to set your own expectations for your work. Setting your own expectations up front helps focus your efforts and measure your achievements. Your expectations for your own work should align in some way with your organization or team goals. After all, they hired you to help the organization progress. If you’ve done your homework about your organization, setting expectations that further company goals will be much easier.

Your expectations should also be clear and measurable so you know whether or not you are meeting them. This will keep you feeling like you’ve accomplished something at work each day, so you don’t lose motivation. It also helps ensure you actually meet your expectations rather that just striving for a vague ideal that’s difficult to know when you’ve achieved.

Communicate your expectations to your team

Once you’ve got a clear set of expectations for yourself that you believe will help you contribute best to your organization, you must communicate those self-defined expectations to your team – including your manager. Hopefully you’re in contact with your manager on a regular basis, so it doesn’t have to be a big production. If you’re not, schedule a meeting and tell them you’d like to discuss your goals to confirm you’re on the right track.

And that’s exactly what the goal of your communication needs to be – to confirm the goals you’ve set for yourself are in line with your boss’s expectations. The truth is, most managers aren’t great at managing knowledge workers and likely won’t have clear expectations of you. Even if they tell you you’re way off base or completely overhaul all of the priorities you set for yourself, they’ll appreciate the effort and strategic thinking and it’s a great way to open up the conversation about what is expected.

In short, take control!

At the end of the day, no one is managing your career but you. That’s why it’s important – especially in the new reality of relatively unmeasurable work – that you take some ownership. When you don’t know what’s expected of you, seek it out and decide on your own. From there, it’s of course a negotiation with your boss and your organization, but at least you’ve begun the conversation.

Not knowing what is expected of you is a major cause of dissatisfaction at work. Learning to navigate this new world and take control will help you succeed in your career and bring more fulfillment and engagement with your work. And with all of that to win, what have you got to lose by giving it a shot?

 

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