Dangerous Expectations


If I had to describe in one word what the difference is between deals and projects that have gone well and those that did not go as well as we would like, the most common word would probably be “expectations.”

ExpectationsTypically, troubled projects that our team is asked to evaluate or clean-up have suffered greatly from unmet expectations. In many cases, each party involved had different expectations at the start and those differences grew over time.

To make matters worse, when you have clients, staff, and even management that does not understand or keep up with the details of the deal or project, they often assume things that no one else involved has even considered. Or they forget that things that were only mentioned in passing never were included in the formal project definition.

When these “hidden assumptions,” whatever they may be, don’t come to pass then people become disappointed or upset. The fact that no one else involved shared this expectation is irrelevant. It has become an emotional letdown and then an emotional challenge to the success of the project.

For example…

A prospective first-time home buyer assumes that all window treatments will remain with the house but has not asked for them. It is not noted in the contract. On the closing day walk-through, the window treatments are gone and they are upset. Everyone else is surprised and thinks the buyer is just being difficult.

Another example..

A woman hires a company to come resolve a computer virus on her computer that has precious photos and documents. The company works by the hour. The virus is very complex and difficult to fully remove (as they are becoming these days).

The woman complains they are taking longer than the prior year when she had this problem. Then she is upset the total price is higher than the year before when the technology firm had a special introductory deal. The woman had just assumed the price was the same and had not verified it. The technology firm had quoted a per-hour standard price but not a new estimated full price nor estimated the time required.

She feels ripped off. The technology firm is surprised. They feel they did a great job to solve her problem and protect her documents and photos at the normal fee others are glad to pay. All started with assumptions and thus different expectations. In the end, no one is happy.

Granted, there are some people that will not properly set or adjust their expectations no matter how well and often you communicate. They either won’t listen or are simply used to getting their way through a variety of means and actions. This is most common in the out-of-touch manager that is used to get his desired results by being the bully regardless of the cost or emotional damage. However, if you are paying attention early and communicating clearly, you can often spot these people before your deal is too involved and avoid them.

If you are in business, let your competition have the totally unrealistic clients. If this out-of-touch person is your boss, be sure you are in the right job. You might not be. If this is an employee, perhaps they are not a good fit, especially if they treat colleagues and clients as poorly as they treat you and your projects! If this is a colleague then the decision that you work together may not be yours. Still, where you can do so, try to steer clear of them as best you can.

So what is the take away from this? Don’t assume. Set expectations early and explicitly. Revisit the expectations frequently. Keep everyone informed of what you expect and make a point to ask what they are expecting. When there is a problem or even just a problem with expectations, address it as quickly as possible. Else, it will grow. It may even grow to the point is consumes your project, career, business or reputation. Communicate to succeed and to be transparent, not to hide problems and issues.

Expectations are critical. Clear, explicit communications are critical to keeping the expectations of all in mutual balance and on track.


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.