Anita sipped her coffee. The hot liquid calmed her nerves, but her fists remained clenched. Why was no one ever satisfied! Some introspection later, Anita realized that she herself was rarely fully satisfied. With her peers, her team’s performance... It was always, ‘okay, it’s better than nothing…’ Worse, her boss was never satisfied with her performance. Anita expected her team to do more. Her boss had the same expectation of Anita. And so it went down the hierarchy, in a frustratingly linear way. Right down to the pantry staff!
Everyone was actually working very hard: Anita, her boss, her team, even the pantry staff! Pushing hard on internal alignments, numbers, investments, achievements... Why then was everyone so dissatisfied?
It all boiled down to expectations. Having them, managing them and passing them on.
Expectations essentially come in three flavours:
- Our expectations of ourselves: Standards I set for myself: Often, the primary culprit! A competitive professional upbringing, pushy bosses, aggressive development plans, all contribute to us setting high standards for ourselves. Self-inflicted pain!
- Our expectations of others: Having set a high benchmark for ourselves, we tend to inflict it on others around us. Direct reports, peers, bosses in the office, and our friends and family outside it. The pain continues…
- Others’ expectations of us: Influenced by our attitude and demeanor, the ‘you-can-do-more’ thing becomes a part of business-as-usual. Thereby closing the loop!
Each of these flavours is pressure-packed with the emotions and temptations sometimes mistaken for ‘motivation’. The belief that pushing more, achieves more. Laced with flattery and sarcasm to stimulate greed – the sleeping partner of expectation! It’s all very human. All very real.
Managing expectations is a tricky business at the best of times! And there are times when we feel that no matter what we do, we are unable to manage anyone’s expectations!
In the workplace, expectations, and the constant pressure to meet – and exceed – them, only adds to workplace stress. As if there wasn’t enough already! And things are not going to get any better as the rapidly changing environment gets more and more competitive.
While the pressure of managing expectations cannot be eliminated altogether, mitigating it is a matter of strategy:
1. Set expectations basis measures of success: Agree on the benchmark outcome which, when achieved, would meet expectations. Everything else would be relative to this. The more numeric the benchmark, the easier it is to determine if, and to what extent, expectations have been met.
2. Assess, not assume: When determining goals, it is necessary to assess the opportunity available, the infrastructure in place (investments, resources) and the team’s readiness level. Assessments, therefore, take time and effort. So assumptions – the easy way out – become the direction of choice! For an articulate leader, convincing people that assumption equals assessment is quite easy. Resist the temptation to assume!
3. Change expectations alongside the circumstances: Environments change, goals change, investments tend to get pulled back, people tend to leave… these circumstances change not only the numbers, but also the original play-field. Expecting people to meet original expectations when the goalposts have shifted is a setting for failure. New expectations should be set alongside new goals!
4. Create a high performance culture: While meeting expectations is a good thing, true leadership success is about getting people to exceed them! People, however, will stretch voluntarily only when leaders are able to unleash the discretionary effort in them. And discretionary effort comes in only when leaders use appropriate management styles – the pillars of a high-performance Culture.
Predictably, this calls for a great deal of transparency and a high level of communication between parties of all the parts. We, and everyone in the 360-degree ecosystem we call our life – personal or corporate! And it’s more than apparent that frequent and all-round communication and transparency is vital for success. In short – managing expectations is a collaborative exercise!
As collaboration catches up with competition in the workplace, the process of setting goals and expectations, and thereafter appraising performance, is getting quicker and tighter. Some of the older performance management models – like ‘annual appraisals’ and the ‘bell curve’ – already have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. At least at some forward looking organizations. With the varying business environment, the challenges around holding on to, and engaging, the best talent will remain. Expectations – all 360 degrees of them – will remain too. Only, they’ll be wider and higher than before.
There will be those who will see the glass as half full, while others will invariably see it half empty. The question is: would anyone consider changing the glass?
Disclaimer: This is a contributed post. The statements, opinions and data contained are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of People Matters and the editor(s).