Sunday, May 13, 2012

How Do You Set Expectations at the Right Level?

We all have different expectations for everything we do – some are very consciously calculated and others more subconscious, but our ‘expectations’ affect our lives on a daily basis. So how we create and respond to our expectations will have an impact on our lives in general. Expectations impact everything, from our personal relationships and our day-to-day interactions with others (in and outside work) to how much we enjoy eating out or enjoy a holiday and yet we rarely seem to review and assess how realistic our expectations are.

We all know how different people have completely different expectations for exactly the same activity – in fact there isn’t one ‘activity’ that everyone has the same expectation for. So how do we deal with this in business and how do we minimise discrepancies in expectations.

Getting expectations ‘right’ has an impact on how we optimise the efficiency of effort and ‘enjoy’ what we are doing. But this doesn’t mean that we can simply lower our expectations on everything, so that we’re always ‘happy’ – because expectations are linked with standards and ethics.

Lower expectations too far and standards start to drop, which can start a total decline in standards and/or values. But, similarly at the opposite end, if your expectations are too high then you’re likely to be constantly disappointed, which from a leaders perspective means that you’ll be constantly unhappy and your staff are likely to be constantly demotivated – which leads to a decline in performance and a loss of respect for the leader.

Expectations are ‘created’ through personal knowledge, experience, as well as feedback from others (that we may or may not trust, i.e. sometimes we can be misled leading to incorrect expectations – like when you watch a movie trailer, which leads you to have high expectations for a movie that you then end up being disappointed with).

So in business the word ‘expectations’ gets mentioned quite a lot; in describing meeting customer expectations, or staff expectations, for example, or how a vision creates an expectation of a future state – but how well to we manage the ‘creation’ of expectations in the first place and are leaders and organisations as a whole doing enough to align ‘expectations’ throughout the organisation – both from an internal and external perspective.

If not, then an organisation mustn’t be surprised when either customers become confused with the level of service they receive or different departments and/or individuals have different perceptions about how well they are meeting the organisations expectations of them, leading to different levels of perceived operational efficiency (which can cause chaos when it comes to appraisal time and an employee thinks they’ve met expectations and their boss has a different perspective).

So executives and managers need to spend more time clearly defining and aligning expectations in their organisations – where expectations are a two way street. This has a significant impact on a multitude of activities and factors within a business; which strangely are rarely discussed, except in the very best organisations – for example, discussing what is expected to be required from an organisation (at the individual level) to reach the ‘vision’ and, just as importantly, what the expectations are once the vision has been reached.

If these simple expectations aren’t discussed organisations mustn’t be surprised when in reaching a specific objective, the leadership is ecstatic, but their staff are demotivated and disappointed; as this will simply be because expectations have not been aligned and discussed. 

The reader will probably think that the points raised are simply common sense – yet in our day to day lives much of our disappointment, demotivation and even conflict is caused by non-alignment of expectations. How many ‘arguments’ do you have in your personal life that can, in the end, be simply put down to a difference in expectations? And how once expectations are discussed and aligned life becomes much smoother; whether it’s agreeing about household chores, to who’s going to get the take away on the way home, to what shade of white the wall is going to be painted.

As individuals we, too often, project our expectations on others, assuming that since these are our expectations, they must align with the other parties – and are often shocked to horrified when these expectations aren’t met and even more shocked when we find the other parties expectations were nowhere close to ours - where this leads to disappointment, mistrust and even anger.

So to make your life easier, whether a leader or a staff member, always take the time upfront to discuss expectations with the other individual or group for any task you are involved with – this will ensure expectations are aligned, (which through the process  may even lead to a restructuring of the task, for the better). And as a leader, when you’re selling your vision of the future, take the time to discuss expectations with everyone involved, to ensure that everyone has the same expectations from the outcome and the process.

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