Expectations lead to failure. Setting expectations are a great first step, however we need to go further and ensure both parties are on the same page on possibilities. Agreements are that next step.
Expectations are fraught with misinterpretation and assumptions. Assumptions that you have delivered clear and concise instructions. Assumptions that there are no questions and of course assumptions that your people are capable of achieving the results you expect. I’m not referring to competencies here – I am referring to your clear understanding of the constraints your direct reports may be facing that will prohibit them from achieving expectations.
Your direct reports want to be productive; they want to be successful and they want to know that their work has meaning whilst making a difference not just to the team, or the project, but to the company as a whole. They also want to know the ‘why’, that broader piece of the mission to keep them on track – how does this piece of work fit into the overall project – the flow of work. It heightens engagement and ownership. In other words they really want to be part of the company’s success, however in many cases they are relegated with expectations with no room for discussion and or collaboration. And that leads to failure – yours and theirs.
So what goes wrong? It’s fairly simplistic: the definition of expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future”. Timelines aren’t met on a belief, bills aren’t paid on a belief, your personal mortgage isn’t paid on a belief and neither does the completion of a project on time and within budget. Beliefs don’t matter; results do. So, set expectations – that’s a start however we need to go a step further – like the bank does.
And that step further is investing in the time to come to an agreement. First: make clear what the needs are, take stock of the whole situation and in collaboration work your way through any bottle necks that exist and together come to that understanding – the agreement of what can and will be done and by when. Reaching agreement leads to successful outcomes. In order to agree on something people have to talk, collaborate and yes negotiate. Move past any conflicts that may arise and stay focused to the desired results.
There are too many meetings that take place where a ‘dirty yes’ has been declared and once out of the meeting the whispers in the hall start immediately. What’s a dirty yes? …… We all know it. ….. How many times have your people agreed to your expectations and yet not delivered?
Your first question to yourself should be why didn’t they deliver. They gave you a yes, they understood, but was it a real yes or a dirty yes. That dirty yes was for your benefit only and it was done so people could move on – move out of the meeting – to try to meet expectations, but they knew it wasn’t possible. They knew they were 2 people short; they knew a line was down and it would be a long delay in getting it back up; they knew your best programmer was ill, they knew the job couldn’t be completed and why it couldn’t be competed as per your expectations; yet they gave you that yes. That was a dirty yes.
How many of us pay attention to the whispers in the hall after the meeting. That’s really were the rubber hits the road right after the dirty yes has been stated. All the problems are being talked about. People are moving off in frustration and disengagement. They are talking; they are trying to solve problems, they are complaining yet trying to work through and meet your expectations. There is ambiguity of how to prioritize the workload – there are too many competing expectations.
Where are you? Are you still engaged in this conversation or have you moved back to your office to deal with your own personal competing expectations – the ones you are trying to get through today, this week, this month.
What a loop we are all in.
None of us want ‘death by meeting’ so quick meetings – stand up meetings have become the norm. Yet what are we missing in those meetings? We are missing that key step; the one where we come to an agreement. An agreement on realistic expectations; there lies the elusive treasure of successful meetings. It’s in the agreements reached.
Agreements by definition is ‘harmony or accordance in opinion or feeling; a position or result of agreeing; a negotiated and binding arrangement between parties as to a course of action’. In other words an agreement is the result of dialogue – reaching a harmony or accordance – between two entities where both entities have agreed to the outcomes – the results.
Let’s look at an example: Regardless of what business you are in, there is always a deadline, always a demanding client and always a problem that exists. As a leader, you know about the deadline, you own the results to that deadline and rely on your direct reports to deliver to the deadline. You certainly know the ire of demanding clients [you also own the relationship with the client], so when you meet with the team you can proudly stand there and talk about the expectations for the week. If you stop there you are setting yourself, your team and the company up for failure.
The next step you take is the most important. Once you have outlined the expectations open the meeting up for discussions. Listen to understand the constraints that could adversely affect your team from meeting expectations. Your direct reports have that day to day ground level knowledge you will need to know to achieve success. Listen. Discuss. Collaborate on solutions. Reach an agreement. Don’t leave expectations up to chance success. Move that step further and come to an agreement. Together you will all step into the real world of leadership.
Loretta Biscaro Smith is the founder of Genesis Executive Management Inc.
A consulting firm that specializes in, Leadership Development, and Executive Coaching.