Updated: Sep 10, 2020

I posit that the greatest challenge of management is that of expectations. For example, even though I always know what I mean when I share it with others, that may not be what others hear or perceive, and vice versa. The ever-present potential for misunderstanding is great in everyone’s everyday life because the “reality” is that every individual has his or her own expectations. We each have our own worldview, and cling to “our” myriad of other variables. Our “knee-jerk” reaction to anything that we hear or read depends much on our state of mind at the time. Therefore, my intention in what I say or write to someone else may be interpreted rather differently by those to whom I issue instructions, or with whom I share my delegations, desires and expectations. The result can equate to the proverbial ‘broken telephone’ frustration in communication.

If the objective or information gets lost in translation, the management of expectations is compromised for all parties. Consequently, the outcome may well be different to the ‘vision’ of the objective. Differing perspectives and interpretations often result in blame and disappointment.

George Bernard Shaw suggested that “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place". As poor communication is the perennial challenge for all of us, how can we avoid it? Warren Buffet provides some perspective: "Focus on learning how to write and speak clearly. If you can't communicate, it's like winking at a girl in the dark - nothing happens.”

Generally, the most senior person within an ecosystem holds the primary responsibility for communication and the management of expectations. What about the role of followership though? Followership includes everyone. Mike Albo remarks in his article The dark side of charisma: “More important, we followers need to stay clear-headed.” An ecosystem is only as functional as the level of will of its constituents for participation. Put simply: I listen and remember easily when engaging with those whom I trust. The fact that we hear what we want to hear and forget the rest is what makes the management of expectations so challenging.

Equally, just because one has said it, placed it in writing, inserted the deadline in one’s own and others’ calendars et al, there is no guarantee that it will happen as expected, or by the due date, or at all! I need to remind myself, often, that what I am asking for is my deliverable or desire and that it may well not align effortlessly with the deliverables and desires of others. Consequently, for the greatest chance of achieving objectives in a transparent and collegial manner, I propose the following:

- Always have a coherent objective and related timeline (what are we doing, why are we doing it, and by when?)

- Relate the new objective to the recently completed objective/s for relevance, continuity and confidence

- Do not avoid micromanagement of self and others when implementing something new. Even if it is my idea, I need to reiterate its objective and nuance constantly, until it is imbedded in my psyche and workflow

- You’ll know when your reiterations of the objectives are gaining traction when others make fun of you!

- Sculpting culture through communication– how we communicate with each other, every day, is the key criterion for or against our success

Communication should be our key focus in the management of expectations. Regardless of our role or ecosystem, let us play our part by being mindful of what is asked of us and what we are asking of others in turn. Just like a great performance is recognisable to any audience and not only experts, let us be clear, concise and helpful in our communication. And equally, if a request to us is not clear, let us respectfully request clarity before blindly proceeding and employing hope as the strategy for implementing it.


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