Success is Meeting Expectations

THE MAIN POINT (356 words—71 seconds reading time)

How do we set expectations at in your company? Do we assume our project milestones are sufficient guidance for people to know how best to spend their time, hour by hour?

How many of you go to work each morning knowing exactly what you need to do and return home each evening having accomplished exactly that? This is the question we started with several weeks ago in figuring out how to get the most out of our day. The first part of this question has to do with expectations. Do we have expectations for the day? Do we make them formal? Do we know the expectations others have for us for the day? Do we make that formal?

One of my favorite definitions of success is: Success is meeting expectations. We can’t meet expectations unless we can set expectations. According to research, once we set the expectations in such a way that we know clearly what they are, we’ll meet them. Clear, complete expectations means success.

There are a number of practical hints on setting expectations formally. We can make “to do” lists. But lists take time and can be boring for some people. However, “to do” lists don’t take as much time or are as frustrating as failing to accomplish much during the day. We can set priorities; and the expectation is that we address higher-priority activities before we address lower-priority activities. That’s boring too. Lists and priority setting are process expectations and meet Edwards Deming’s admonition that we focus on the process, not the results. So, we don’t set numerical targets for what we expect to accomplish. Instead we set process expectations by making a “to do” list and prioritizing the tasks. Also, estimating the time for each task will help us work through the process of setting expectations. If we do well at the process that generates the results, the results will come automatically. (Oh, there I go emphasizing process again.)

Of course, we won’t be perfect at setting expectations when we first try. My other favorite definition of success is a quote by Winston Churchill: “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

THE FOLLOW UP (298 words—60 seconds reading time)

Who sets your expectations? You do, of course. But, what about the expectations your boss has of you? What if you don’t get the guidance you need from your boss on expectations.? You can set those too. My wife is the best I’ve seen at setting her boss’s expectations. For years, she would inform her boss in writing what she planned (expected) to do the coming week and asked for his agreement. He always agreed and she always set her own work plan. He was so pleased she met “his expectations” he had of her.

I later did the same sort of thing with my boss when I reported to the Provost of the University. I provided her a weekly “management summary” where I listed my expectations for the upcoming week. The next day we met for 15 minutes (each week) and confirmed my expectations as well as my status, progress, needs, and concerns. That destroyed her “a meeting equals an hour” paradigm, but she liked it because I only took a brief time to report progress and set upcoming expectations.

I think the greatest frustration and demotivator in the workplace is working toward unknown or misunderstood expectations. Much of our time is wasted spinning our wheels trying to guess expectations, trying to live without knowing expectations, and failing because we do a wonderful job of meeting the wrong expectations.

When I don’t finish my “to do” list in the time I estimated, many times it’s because I spent too much time chatting with a co-worker, my mind wandered too often, or I just didn’t apply myself.

If we want to get control of our day, we must first master setting expectations clearly and completely for ourselves and for others we work with and for.