Tech Manager—Great Expectations

In a very good book by Charles Dickens, young Pip has a series of life changing expectations about events in his life, in which most of them do not play out as he thought they would. We can be like Pip in that we also have preconceived ideas about what outcomes may come from our planning.

As a follow up from the last two articles on pitfalls (Part I here & Part II here), I thought of another area that deserves some focus. It is our expectations and the expectations of others. Everyone usually expects something. They may expect a little more or less than what actually happens, or they may be way off. When reality does not meet the expectation, then there is a disappointing moment that might taint the outcome of an event, a milestone, or a transition.

I combine two perspectives into one article because it is a balancing act to get it right. Expectations are difficult things to get right. They can provide motivation toward good outcomes or they can provide disappointment in missed targets. I have seen people’s satisfaction levels go down because they were expecting one thing and received another. They anticipated more and got less. I have also observed unexpected outcomes bring a smile to many faces when something goes better than they had hoped.

You need to manage expectations, your own and others, so that when something happens, it is met with enthusiasm and satisfaction. Matching outcomes with expectations, bring great satisfaction. Expect too much or too little or just something different and things can go sour.

Expecting Too Little

Sometimes we expect too little from people. Sometimes people expect too little from us. When we expect too little from others, we tend to slow down the timeline. We give them more time, even if they do not ask for it. This delays project completion and stretches out timelines unnecessarily.  It also causes us to not delegate tasks to others because we think they will underperform. Things that could be passed on to others stay on your plate and cause more delays.

When people expect too little from you, some of the same things happen in reverse. They do not let you work on some efforts as they think you will not be able to handle the work. You do not get that promotion. You miss out on the project leadership role.

Expecting Too Much

Equally impactful can be an attitude of thinking others are better at what they do or are faster than they really are. You are giving them more credit than they actually deserve. This can mean that you are disappointed and maybe even left high and dry when others cannot complete a task or project that you gave them. Maybe their level of effort is not as high as you had hoped. Or the quality of their work did not meet the needs or desires of the client as you had envisioned. It may have to be redone. It may be criticized by the client and reflect badly on the firm. It may not be their fault; it may be that you gave them a task that was beyond their skill level.

It may also be that you are expecting too much from others and too much from yourself. This is just being too demanding. You are asking them to do something at a pace they cannot achieve. Or to task them with too much work and they are overloaded. This could be you taking on too much also. Overloading yourself. You cannot even do everything you have taken on. You expect too much from yourself.

Expecting the Wrong Thing

There are times when we just think that something totally different will happen. Think of a surprise birthday party that lands on the same day that, unbeknownst to you, the person has a terrible day. They bring grumpiness to the party that you thought would be fun. Sometimes you think a tech fix will get you back on track, but it ends up making things worse. Sometimes you think you are on the same page with the client and they are thinking something totally different.

Expecting the Best

How do you get it just right? How do you get clear expectations from all parties?  You have a conversation. With others and with yourself. I call it Expectation Management. You do this by clarifying the timeline, level of effort, outcome, and end product. It sounds like a grand conversation, but it can be fairly quick.

When you give a task to someone, you need to define a due date. Rather than just giving them one (unless others have already defined the due date), ask them how long it will take. If their answer matches what you were thinking, all is good. Now ask about the end product (how many, what detail level, etc.). Again, if it matches your thoughts, all good. But if they do not match, then start a quick negotiation. Start first by asking why. Why so long? Why so few? Make sure you understand their perspective on what it will take to get things done. You may think you have a good idea on what it will take, but they may think it will take longer because they have concluded that you want more completed than you are actually asking for. Clarify your targets and ask again. “If we only need 5, how long would that take?” Keep going back and forth until you get an agreed upon approach and understanding. You may need to bring others in to help do the hands-on portion if the workload is really taxing or lower your expected outcome if you are asking too much. Either way, when the expectations match and the task is done, you will get predictable results.

When you are given a task or are starting one on your own, ask yourself some of the same questions.  Can I get this done in time? Have I done it in the past? Is this too much for one person? Would I have to set something else aside that is a priority? If you have concerns, communicate those concerns to others that are anticipating a certain outcome. Have the same back and forth conversations until you get an agreed path forward.

By managing expectations, talking it out to an agreed upon plan, you can heighten success, improve moral, increase output, and avoid misunderstandings. It can all be a win-win if you get those expectations in line.

Appears in these Categories