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Expectation setting is key

encryptionIt’s my experience that many of the issues we face in life can be addressed by setting realistic expectations and meeting them.  It sounds too simple to be true but here are a few daily examples where expectation setting makes a huge difference: The weather forecaster is wrong and it rains for your weekend plans of an outdoor party; you miss the traffic report before you walk out the door and realize there’s an accident as soon as you get on the onramp; your take-out order takes 45 minutes instead of the 20 they told you. Most of these issues would be annoying regardless but if the expectations were clear ahead of time they would be a lot less annoying or we would at least be able to come up with an alternative.

The same is true for business.  Many times companies and employees set unrealistic expectations which tend to get them in unnecessary trouble.  How many projects do you know that get done on time and under budget.  No matter how good the final product is, if it’s takes longer or costs more than originally expected it’s not appreciated or valued nearly as much.  This is true from Sales all the way through service, delivery and support.

Someone once told me “go ugly early” which I like.  I want to be as realistic as I can with people I deal with and let them know what to expect, even if it’s not in my favor to do so. I’ve definitely lost deals before when I told the client it was going to 2x longer or cost 2x more than my competition but I also often get calls from those clients mid-way through of after the initial engagement looking to reconnect.  I also don’t believe that saying whatever it takes to get a client is worth the potential bad taste it will leave in their mouth that could lead to negative feedback, especially with social media these days.

We also tend to get ourselves in trouble by setting the expectations instead of asking about them.  We frequently tell clients when we will get them information or when we will finish a deliverable.  I try to avoid doing that and simply ask when they need to see the information or when they want the project done.  If they have unrealistic expectations I can deal with them then.

Going ugly early helps manage expectations upfront but we also have to make sure we stay aligned throughout the process.  In order to be effective at setting and meeting expectations throughout the process we need to be way better at active listening and note taking. It still amazes me when people don’t take notes during meetings or for anything else that needs to be followed up on.  When a waiter comes to take my order at a restaurant, they don’t get extra points for memorizing my order but they get huge negative points if they forget even one thing I asked for.  Maybe it’s because I have a terrible memory but if I don’t take notes during a meeting it’s basically as if the meeting never happened.  It also helps me summarize what we talked about, confirm its accuracy, define next steps and hold everyone accountable for what they are supposed to do and when.

Since I always want to make sure people walk away with actionable things to do after reading my blogs I’ll share one of my favorite tips on effective communication and expectation setting: The Summary E-mail. After every substantive conversation you have with a potential client, client, employee or whoever, send them a summary e-mail.  This doesn’t have to be a book, it usually consists of about 5-10 bullet points of key take-aways plus the next steps and action items.  The way it works is that you take notes during the meeting and then let everyone know you’ll be sending a summary e-mail after the meeting and ask that everyone reviews it and responds with confirm of it accuracy or adds additional feedback on what was missed.  The confirmation is key because then you have a written log of what everyone talked about so you can hold everyone accountable moving forward.

You should be taking notes during meetings anyway.  This is just a way to consolidate those notes and put them into a format to share with everyone and keep them all on the same page.  It’s amazing how simple but effective this practice is.  If someone isn’t willing to respond to the e-mail you send out you should be worried about their level of commitment to the engagement/relationship in the first place.  Try it out and see what happens.

About the Author:

John Barrows
www.jbarrows.com

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