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November 11, 2012 / alipeles

2. Manage the expectations of everyone with whom you work

  • Don’t let people count on things that aren’t going to happen
  • The quality of other people’s plans depends on the quality of yours
  • Use deadlines and estimates as a tool for communication, as well as commitment

Expectation management gets a bad rap. It sounds like the art of laying fraudulent groundwork so that later you can bowl someone over with mediocre delivery. Naturally, we react very badly when we suspect someone’s doing it to us, “Are you trying to manage my expectations? Stop! Just lay the truth on me.”

But, real expectation management isn’t about lying. It’s about accuracy and reliability, getting people to expect what’s actually going to happen. And, it’s at the heart of good communication.

People trust you and they act on the information you give them. When you tell your friend that you’ll give her a lift to work, she doesn’t arrange another ride. If you fail to show, she’s up a creek. When you tell Accounting that the system will handle the new rules by October, they promise the regulators that the firm will be compliant in October.

Don’t let people count on things that aren’t going to happen.

Step one: keep your actions and what comes out of your mouth in lock step. Say what you’re going to do and then do it. Period.

Step two: Make sure you’re understood. What you actually said doesn’t matter to the irate client who managed to misinterpret and expect something else. Don’t let people misinterpret. Articulate clearly. Ask questions to confirm comprehension. When it’s really important, introduce a formal process. If you’ve promised something to regulators, there had better be an accuracy-attested document that spells out exactly what you plan to do.

And, Step three: Update your commitments. If you told people that the IT build would take a year then they still believe that 11 months later. Ask for one more month now and you’re going to lose them. But, heck, if your yearlong project is only a month late, you’re probably the most effective IT partner they’ve ever had. They’re not upset that you slipped. They’re feeling burnt because they committed something to their customers (or bosses or employees) and now have to go eat crow. By the way, guess why those customers are upset? They make plans and have stakeholders too.

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