Often I hear managers and other professionals complain about their staff. And the problem comes from their reliance on expectations. Take the example of Ron, a branch manager.

“I gave my people a simple telephoning assignment on Monday along with a checklist. When I asked them about it on Friday, only one of them had done the work and none of them had turned in the checklist,” Ron told me. “When I tell them what to do, I expect that they’ll do it. Is that too much to ask?

“No, of course not. But what was the agreement?” I asked him. Ron hesitated, confused.

“There wasn’t any agreement,” he replied, indignant. “Most of them have been with me for years. They know what I expect of them.”

I questioned this. I explained to Ron that management by expectation has a lot of holes in it. The details may not be clear, even when you’re certain they are. It leaves the door open to excuses about why the job couldn’t be done. And, most important, no one has actually agreed to do it. By contrast, management by agreement turns a vague, one-sided expectation into specific promises. In Ron’s case, he might say. 

“I’m giving you all this calling assignment and a checklist. I’d like all ten calls completed this week. Please turn in your checklists to me 10:00 AM Friday. All ten lines should be filled out with useful information on the calls you made. Do you all agree? Jane? Pete? Mark? Does everyone understand exactly what’s being asked? Any questions? Great. So completed call assignments will be on my desk by 10 o’clock Friday morning. If there’s any reason you can’t complete it by then or if you need help to make sure that it gets done, please let me know today.”

“That’s a lot of work for something so simple,” Ron complained. “But I’ll try it next week.” Two weeks later, Ron and I talked about his result.

“All of them, except one guy who was out for three days, did exactly as I asked,” he said. “And the one who was out came back in on Friday and asked if it was okay if he turned his in on Tuesday.”

What works for managing staff works for handling just about anyone—including your clients. Don’t just expect a certain action from them, get them agree to it, to make a commitment. You’ll be much less likely to be disappointed.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to www.sandyschussel.com.