The No-Brainer We Often Miss…

Managing Expectations

I slipped up this week. On Monday I told several people I would have something out to them by Tuesday. This was Wednesday morning. Someone else owed me the last piece I needed so I could do my part. It might come in any minute. Or maybe not. But naively thinking I would have it, I had made a commitment.

Here was my Wednesday morning thought process…

…I knew this was not critical path for anything, so even if I was late it wouldn’t matter.

…I was the one setting this project’s schedule, so if I made them late, it would be my problem.

…This issue was so low on the radar no one would likely notice that I was late.

Still, I had made a commitment. It was a “minor” commitment, but it was a commitment.

I had set an expectation, and I had missed it. It didn’t matter that, as far as I knew, no one cared. As far as I knew…that’s part of the problem – my knowledge is limited. I didn’t know if someone was waiting to leave on vacation until they had done their part with my information. I didn’t know how this detail might impact someone’s opinion of me. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I knew I had set an expectation.

So I took about ninety seconds and sent off a quick email to adjust their expectations. I should have done that before my commitment was missed, but better late than never.

Integrity is built on doing what you say. If you count on your “big commitments” to build your reputation, consider how many opportunities others have to experience your “big commitments” versus your “little commitments”. For most people, your reputation is well established by little commitments long before they know if you’ll hit a big commitment.

Besides your reputation for integrity, managing expectations – delivering what others expect, when they expect it, and not leaving them hanging – increases everyone’s ability to manage their own productivity. It’s a win-win.

Managing expectations doesn’t require creativity, and it’s not rocket science. It’s mostly self-discipline. Here’s how to start:

  1. Decide that there’s no such thing as big and little commitments. There are only commitments, and you keep commitments. If you do miss, make it right as quickly as you discover it.
  2. When in doubt, communicate! Don’t decide on others’ behalf if they need to know something. Assume they do and tell them as soon as possible, especially when something changes.
  3. Be clear and precise about what you’ll do and by when. Vague expectations lead to misunderstandings. Even if they don’t ask, tell them when you’ll follow up. Otherwise they may think you’re late tomorrow when you think you have until next week.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask what you would expect. Deliver on that, and a little more for good measure. Managing expectations is a no-brainer way to improve relationships and productivity.
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One thought on “The No-Brainer We Often Miss…”

  1. This is excellent advice Alan, with some personal transparency to demonstrate the potential cost or value. In addition to reputation impacts, our attention to the seemingly minor commitments is akin to being Faithful in the small things. I think this has multiple affects, both internally and externally: For ourselves, it grows our commitment-keeping muscle, and the transparency we allowed others by making the commitment is also a healthy thing, and allows us to be accountable to others. From the external side, the faithfulness in minor commitments makes it more likely that others will want to entrust us with more significant matters, allowing us the chance to make and keep those “larger commitments”.

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