When performance is measured against expectations
Remember when your parents said, 'I'm disappointed in you'. How awful did you feel? In a work setting, the equivalent might be being told by your boss, 'This result isn't what I expected'. A ball of incompetence falls to the pit of your stomach.
Why the reaction?
Expectations are out of our control
Expectations relating to delivery, whether around quality, time and behaviour, and are formed through a person's experiences, bias and judgment. Unless we are the person setting the expectations, none of these things are within our control. So when we work with and for someone, unless we are clear with each other about our individual expectations, we're leaving 'performance' up to chance and setting ourselves up for failure. Same goes for the people we lead.
Why time isn't the silver bullet
Time doesn't guarantee expectations will be met. Just ask someone trying to finish off a Board presentation. Give them more time and they'll use it, but it doesn't guarantee the finished product will be any good. This is why we've seen the re-emerging popularity and increased adoption of concepts like human-centred design, co-creation, agile-like methodologies and test-and-learn mindsets.
Why spend time 'nailing' performance when performance isn't really measured until it's tested?
Crunch time is a numbers game
During high delivery periods stacked with pressure and uncertainty the probability of failing to meet expectations skyrocket. This is a simple maths equation: number of deliverables increase, leading to the number of expectations increasing. Coupled with the increase in stress levels, when people are a little 'over-caffeinated' and sleep deprived, fuses shorten and impacts are amplified. It's no wonder that crunch times can get volatile.
Stop blaming time: get on the same page
When you're working on a significant project, address the following questions with your stakeholders and teams:
1. What is the purpose of the activity? What is the desired outcome?
Engagement/ Action/ Recommendation/ Approval?
2. What do you want it to look like? What format, number of pages?
3. Can you share an example of something similar that's been done well
so I can get a sense of your expectations?
4. When is this due? When is this 'really' due?
5. At what stage(s) would you like to see it?
6. When is the appropriate time to engage others about this?
7. Would you like an initial draft that I can take you through early to make sure I'm on track?
8. If it is a document, what is its purpose: a 'presentation' document, or a 'reading' document?
9. What are your expectations around quality - 'Board ready' or 'Draft for discussion'?
The purpose of these questions is not to add process to an already complex matrix of actions and tasks, but to reduce the effort, time and pain associated with mismanaged expectations. Like exercise, we know that muscle pain while exercising is much better than the pain of injury after the event.
9 simple questions to remove the ball from the pit of my stomach - yes please!
Love to hear the shift when you focus on managing expectations, not time...