How does, and how should, a business leader set expectations for employees?
In this episode of the Tough Things First podcast, Silicon valley’s longest serving CEO discusses the public and private motivations employees have, and what a leader needs to consider.
Guy Smith: Hello again, and welcome to another episode of the Tough Things First podcast. I’m your guest host today, Guy Smith and it’s like always a pleasure to be back here with my buddy Ray Zinn. Good morning Ray. How are you doing today?
Ray Zinn: I’m doing just fine Guy, so good to be with you again this morning.
Guy Smith: Well, fantastic. And now we’re on opposite sides of the country I can only imagine what weather over your way is. Out here in North Carolina it’s about as beautiful as beautiful gets.
Ray Zinn: It’s beautiful here too, but probably a difference in temperature maybe.
Guy Smith: Well the leaves are turning here, so everything is looking very very wonderful.
Hey listen, what I wanted to talk to you today about is setting expectations among employees, communicating with employees about the ever shifting goals and objectives that are likely with inside of teams, because you know businesses are in dynamic environments, everything’s constantly in a state of change, and employees have, you know certain expectations that come and go over time. And that’s what I really wanted to dive into because I’ve got to imagine that that’s one of the more personal but also possibly intricate and tedious tasks that a leader has to deal with managing the expectations of a team.
You know, so for our budding entrepreneurs who make up a large part of your audience, what are the kind of employee expectations that they really need to be managing? What are the ones that, you know are going to be most important in keeping teams happy, motivated, innovating, and doing the right job?
Ray Zinn: There’s two components to it. One is reality, in other words what is the way things are, the business climate. For example, just in the last week or two, the stock market has really been going down, down, down, so the expectation is that the market will continue to go up, and up, and up, and up, and up but that’s unrealistic. What comes up must also come down.
And so, you need to have your employees understand that sometimes business is good, sometimes it’s not so good. Sometimes we have organization changes, product changes, and they have to deal with it. People really don’t like change, even though change is what really causes us to change ourselves actually, you know people don’t like change. And so you need to help them understand that change is always with us and that they need to adapt to it.
Guy Smith: Well, what are the kind of really common changes that afflict a business or maybe even just a team with inside of a business that catch employees by surprise and that you need to manage their expectations a little proactively?
Ray Zinn: Well I mean we talked about them just a second ago and that is you know, revenue goes up and down, product lines change, you know the environment changes, maybe the company is being acquired or maybe you lose a customer, or you lose a product line. So, it depends upon what kind of business you’re in.
But change is always with us. And as long as they, as you keep them understanding that, as long as they really like you and the company they’re more likely to accept the change. But when they don’t trust you, when they lose that respect then it’s, you’re gonna have a more difficult time getting them to accept and adopt to the changes that you’re going to be facing.
Guy Smith: I’ve got to imagine the tech industry that you and I have both lived in that you know, the market changes are sometimes the most jolting in terms of employee expectations. You know, they’ve been involved in a market with a particular product and all of a sudden some disruptor comes in and changes the rules of that market entirely. Is that one of the bigger road bumps in terms of employee expectations, at least within tech?
Ray Zinn: Well I mean anything that affects their job, anything that affects their income is what they’re going to have a difficult time with. I know we’ve had, over the years when I ran Micrel, we’ve had several downturns. The thing that helped us the most is that you know, if you have more of a family type atmosphere where people trust each other and truly love each other, they’re more likely to accept change, whether it be you know, one of their buddies getting laid off, or whether it be a reduction in salary.
In fact I have found that the employees are more readily accept a reduction in salary than they are a layoff, even though if they’re not gonna be laid off they’d rather see their salary go down a little bit in order to save one of their friends. So people are generally more kind and loving and understanding than we give them credit for.
But certainly setting expectations is a challenge, you know the ability to be able to adapt and to move forward especially when it’s bad news. Good news is not such a problem, but it’s bad news is where that you have to really manage their expectations and help them through these difficult times.
Guy Smith: Well you know, and you just led into another interesting question there, which is you know, the internal expectations that every employee tends to generate. You know, not so much aligned with corporate things, but personal things. You were talking about that people would rather take a pay cut and preserve a teammate’s job than having their teammate laid off. Are there any kind of common internal expectations that employees develop that a good leader should understand that they need to attend to as well?
Ray Zinn: I’d say probably try to keep the team together. You know, don’t isolate the team. You know, people really are hurt animals as you would, they like to be together, well most people are anyway. There’s a few recluse types, but mostly employees like to be together so the more you can keep them together in some form, whether it be you know activities inside or outside the company, inside or outside the department, that’s what’s gonna generate the enthusiasm and the desire for them to continue working through good times and bad.
Guy Smith: Yeah. I remember in your book, Tough Things First, you were talking about the growing employee expectations towards an IPO. I mean, there’s a lot of discussion in tech nowadays about when people should IPO, if they should ever IPO. And as you explained in your book, you know there was an expectation among certain employees early on that eventually the Micrel would grow to the point where it would IPO and they would get a financial benefit from that. What’s leader’s role in terms of managing those expectations?
Ray Zinn: Well, and it’s not so easy Guy for anyone to try to manage, because people they conjure up their own expectations. In other words, they create their own objectives, and expectations. And so, the key to that is really having them buy in to the mission of the company. In other words, what’s good for the company is what we need to really consider. And you know, you’re going to have a few employees that are not gonna buy in, they’re just going to be always agitators. And so they’ll either adopt, or adapt I mean, or they’re going to leave. But by in large employees who are loyal and dedicated will buy in and will accept you know, the direction the company’s headed providing the leader is an honest and ethical individual.
Guy Smith: You know, and that gets us to I think one of the interesting possible expectation areas in you know, at least 21st century business. We see a lot of news stories about employees having expectations about corporate behavior.
There’s been a lot of news feed recently about Google not wanting to participate on a Department of Defense project. And a lot of that came from resistance from their own employees who did not think that that was a completely ethical project to be involved in. Do you see this as a growing complication, the expectations of the employees in terms of publicly moral stances and positions?
Ray Zinn: Well you know, the political environment changes and also generations change, whether it be generation x, or millennials, or whatever. And so each generation has a different expectation. And you know, like free lunches, or babysitting, or more time off, work from home, and all this sort of thing. So, all those are definitely challenges for leaders, is managing and understanding the expectations of their particular generation of employees.
Guy Smith: Yeah. I guess it is kind of generational because public views, our attitudes towards life society in general change over time. I know that there is some you know, talk among the executive ranks that maybe taking public positions on things that are not core to the mission of the company might be the appropriate stance. In other words, you know don’t take a public position on things that don’t matter to your business. Do you think that’s a proper way of helping to deal with employee expectations if they do have strong expectations about corporate governance and corporate involvement in society?
Ray Zinn: Well, over the years you know we’ve had issues that have come up. Some of us when employees change companies, when they are coming from another company and their policies and procedures at their prior job were different than what you have at the current company that causes some conflict. And they’ll say, “Well, that’s not the way we did it at company xyz.” Or “This is not the kind of business that we were involved in there.”
And in fact I’ve had actually, what we call boomerang employees come back because they said that the new company that they joined when they left Micrel was not as good environment for them as it was at Micrel and they came back because they just enjoyed and appreciated the environment that we had at the company. So, proper environment within your company will go a long ways to managing employee expectations.
Guy Smith: Well that certainly makes a lot of sense. One’s expectations are shaped by their surroundings.
So anyway Ray, I wanted to say thank you because employee expectations have always been a little bit of a tricky thing for me to handle in my career and you certainly have added to my education today.
For the audience you know, if you’re looking for an education in leadership, management, and the way this all ties into society, of course Ray’s first two books must be on your bookshelf, Tough Things First, just an Indian treatise on management and leadership. And then the Zen of Zinn, which kind of ties a ribbon around how business people in society are all interoperable parts. And both books come highly recommended from me that’s for sure. And while we’re at it, do by all means rate and review the Tough Things First podcast on iTunes and Spotify, and Google Podcast. And tune in for another episode of Tough Things First next week.
Ray Zinn: Thanks Guy. I look forward to being with you again.