Managing expectations

Posted by on Dec 8, 2014 in Business Management

An expectation is a strong belief that something will, or should, happen or be done.

As managers we are normally placing expectations on others, especially our reports and subordinates and recognise that others have expectations on us as managers and leaders. This normally relates to process, treatment, consistency, transparency. It’s a challenging exercise to manage expectations of staff, or even associates, through a change process, or to initiate a process of change…

This reverse expectation has occurred for me in two ways. Firstly, through the expectation of an individual experiencing issues with their immediate working environment, where they have sought resolution or advice which has resulted in a positive outcome both personally and organisationally. However, even once resolved, the on-going flow of questions and further issues for fixing doesn’t seem to abate. The flood-gates open with the prospect of more favourable outcomes and relief. Changes may be in place and, rather than adopting the new and now “normal” lines and channels of communications, these continue to be circumvented, and always with a degree of veiled rationale.

Secondly, through the conduit of reports through a significant restructure process. These people face great change around both their immediate locations and status, even their entire futures and possibly career prospects.

With the former, and in spite of any personal and genuine desire to keep helping, there comes a time when the current or new chain of command must be reengaged; the temptation to keep “interfering” in what should be a structured line, even with a high degree of organisational flexibility in that, has to be recognised and managed.

Structures and reporting lines are put in place for a good reason, including factors such as ensuring appropriate contact and connectivity.

Management and governance intervention around normal reporting channels is sometimes needed, but there comes a point when channels must be re-established, reset or recalibrated. This recalibration is by way of clear and unambiguous guidelines around the process and protocol. The time for reset immediately follows resolving the underlying issues, such as where the communication blocks occur or failings for the direct line manager in their ability to manage.  Such initial interferences are acceptable as long as they are focused on dealing with the root cause of the problem, rather than substituting or compensating for poor management actions over a period of time.

The second example is a greater challenge as they may result in expectations formed over a protracted period of time. A leader does have the responsibility of providing for their “people” into a new structure, era, or order; I have seen too many examples where people have been left to fend for themselves, as their “leader” focuses entirely on their own self-preservation, rather than the pastoral care of their team members.

In these structural cases expectations may be based on a recognised position of influence through planning a future structure – a key player in the deciding what the future looks like and who should populate it; These may be based on a feeling or sense of witnessed action and advocacy – other people have been helped or supported. Perhaps even based on simply a fear of being powerless and seeking an ally. Whatever the motive, there must be a personal responsibility to manage some part of the future by the individual concerned, and this should be made clear at the outset. Abdication of personal responsibility is a cop-out, and can also be hugely draining on the one expected to deliver the benefit or outcome.

I can only suggest that, in the face of such expectation, that you do as much as is reasonable and appropriate without overselling the individual, and certainly don’t take all the responsibility to secure someone’s future. Be upfront and honest from the outset as to what you can, and equally importantly can’t, do.

Being the one responsible for “fixing” can be a vulnerable place. In one-off situations it creates a chain of actions usually from which there is no return and which you need to commit to seeing out. In structural changes it doesn’t leave time to concentrate on your own position and occasionally means you may need to take a firm and uncompromising stand on a number of issues.

Finally, expectations should be balanced based on fixing the core issue and then returning to, or establishing , standard operating practices where these are clear, communicated and followed. There must also be a reciprocal expectation back to the individual to take some responsibility for their own future.

Being seen as a problem solver can be rewarding and ego-boosting, but it shouldn’t substitute for good practice.

Key messages are around access, openness, communication and consistency. Being very aware that the message is about consideration and resolution, and reinforcing correct channels and protocols. It’s also about sensitivity and genuine concern for individual dignity and wellbeing.