Saturday, December 29, 2007

Managing Expectations

I have a stump speech I give students going through my classes about expectations. I find many younger people have not yet developed sensitivity to the concept, and they often find it interesting (or entertaining). The concept is based on the premise that people do not like bad surprises, but good surprises are well received. It applies to personal relationships and business relationships. Here is what I tell them:

Suppose after class a few students ask me to go out and have a beer with them. Being the sociable type, I accept. It turns out we have a great time, and around midnight we break up and I go home. My wife greets me at the door at 12:300 with “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, I HAVE BEEN WORRIED SICK?!?” Well, lets just say I’m not getting any tonight!

Now, what if instead I called her after class and told her I was going out with a few students. I may be late, but if after one o’clock I’ll call. At 12:30 I come through the door with a big smile and a “hi honey I’m home.” Everything is fine. The simple difference, of course, is that I managed her expectations by calling her and there was no bad surprise (in this case a surprise when I did not come home at the usual time). The other point of this is that we are the ones who often set the expectations that others have of us. If we recognize this in advance, we can use it to our advantage.

Suppose you are in your first serious job after college and your boss calls you into her office. She wants you to review a stack of data, summarize it, and prepare a report for her. She asks when you can have it for her, and of course, you want to make her happy so you say “before I go home” or something like that. Your boss says thank you, and off you go back to your desk with this pile of data.

Once you start looking through the data, you realize that it will take you a considerable amount of time to analyze it and prepare a quality report. In fact, it will probably take you at least all day and most of tomorrow. Now what? You have several options, all bad. You can be late delivering the report, do a poor job but deliver it on time, or go to the boss and tell her it will take longer than you thought and ask for more time. Of course, the proper course of action is the last one, but what if your boss has relied on your estimate of time and made a commitment to someone else? Now she looks bad, and to her you look bad.

Now change the scenario. Instead of replying that you will get the report finished right away, try something like “I would like to look through this data and organize my thoughts to get an estimate of how long this will take. Can I call you in 30 minutes and let you know?” Any reasonable boss will say OK to that sort of reply. So, you go and review the assignment and you see it will take all day and most of tomorrow. You call your boss (in something less than 30 minutes) and let her know you believe you can make a good job of it by the end of the day tomorrow. Your boss says OK and thank you for getting back to her promptly. You are now inspired because you did something that worked and made you look good! So, you stay late and work on the report, and come in early the next day to finish it up. Around lunch time you deliver a quality report to your boss and say to her that you hope it is what she was looking for, and if she would like you to make any changes or additions you would be happy to do so. Now you look great! You delivered the report early, have time for her to review it before the promised deadline, and did a quality job. Go take a long lunch because you earned it.

Be careful, however, not to abuse this. If you believe the job will take you until the end of tomorrow, you can say that you think that it will be finished by then but you may need a little wiggle room. What you don’t want to do is say it will take you three days, even if you deliver it in two, when it should only take two. You can get a reputation as someone who manages expectations, and then the expectation will always be that you will deliver ahead of schedule. Now you have to manage that expectation too!

I am interested in any comments on this little stump speech. Is it a good one for college students who will be entering the job market? If you are in a supervisory role, are there any improvements/changes that you would make? If you are a young person, does it resonate with you?

Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

As someone who went straight into the job market after high school and has been quite successful for the past ten years despite lacking a formal degree, I have to tell you that this is fantastic advice to be offering your students. I credit this approach heavily for my own success.

The other point I'd recommend adding is that people shouldn't be afraid to ask questions. I've encountered this most frequently with people who are new at their jobs. They end up learning the "right" way to do things the hard way - by doing things incorrectly and having to be corrected, which is never ideal.

Asking questions doesn't make a person seem stupid, which is what I think people are afraid of - it actually shows that the person cares enought to find out precisely what is actually needed so that they can then provide it.

I remind new people around me to take full advantage of the time when they're new at a job - no one expects them to know eveything at that point, so it's okay to ask a lot of questions, provided they're pertinent and will advance their ability to do their job well. The more questions a person asks, the better they'll understand what's needed.

Asking questions also opens up a dialogue whereby a new employee can form closer relationships with the people he or she works with, which can only help in advancing his or her career.

I hope this helps! =)

Palermo's Blog said...

Thank you so much for that comment. I think it is excellent advise and I will add it. It is right on point.