Do You Feel Lucky?: Managing Other's Expectations

Tuesday, 18 September 2012 20:35
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In our personal and professional lives, setting performance expectations and effectively managing outcomes can be tough. It often isn't enough to simply do one's best. Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends.

Do You Feel Lucky?

Managing Others' Expectations

One's performance is routinely measured in the absolute and also against others' expectations for it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing: high expectations require the best of us and our efforts. Low expectations can at times motivate us to higher achievement levels. This said, in general, unless expectations are properly set, and importantly, we can play a critical role in helping to set them (!), misses (in either direction) can have costly and or embarrassing consequences. 

Ryan Lochte left the 2012 Olympic Games with 5 medals: 2 gold, 2 silver and a bronze. Very impressive for anyone other than teammate Michael Phelps, who set the standard for Olympic excellence in 2008 with 8 gold medals. Once Lochte proclaimed that the London Olympics would be "his time", his terrific performance measured against Phelps' impossibly high standard was judged as relatively unimpressive, and as a result his marketability with big name endorsers suffered. In short, Lochte unwisely elevated others' expectations and under-performed, with financial consequences. 

In contrast, back in 2010, no one expected tiny Butler University (enrollment 4,500) to vault to the NCAA basketball's Final Two. That they did, and repeated in 2011, has cemented their status as a legitimate Sweet 16 threat go-forward. However, you only get to be Cinderella once (well, twice). Everyone now expects elite performance from the Bulldogs and their head coach Brad Stevens.  

During my days working with a specialty retailer, projects competed for scarce resources based in part on their sponsor's business revenue projections. In some cases (for example) a sponsor might inflate a $40MM business to be a $60MM opportunity in order to displace a smaller program, even if the more modest plan had a stronger basis for delivering its numbers. If then, the higher opportunity project under-performed at its "real" potential (ie $40MM) it would be judged to be a failure, even if it would have been a pretty decent contributor had the bar been properly and more accurately set. However, because the higher goal became the standard against which success was measured and the projections were then incorporated into the company budget, its under-performance had serious financial and professional consequences. 

As discussed, expectations setting can be tricky, often with serious risks associated with the bets placed. While consistently setting and meeting responsible and achievable performance targets is ideal, this may not seem like an easy decision at the time, especially when pressures and varied motivations enter into the mix. If in doubt, consider this: history shows us that in the long run, consistent, credible performance claims earn greater respect and rewards than either overly ambitious or underwhelming (lowball) projections. That should be reasonable guidance for most of us. 

What are your thoughts? 


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