The advantages of managed expectations -- Part V

Part V in a series identifies the advantages of managing expectations.

Some may construe managing expectations as manipulative, but it need not be. Expectations need to be managed or else disappointment is likely. The alternative is to just let expectations "happen" and thus leave meeting those expectations substantially up to chance. Regardless of the nature of the relationship, it is prudent to actively manage the expectations of those around us.

Remember Charlie, the new warehouse supervisor from earlier issues in this series? His supervisor did not manage Charlie's expectations. For one thing, the supervisor didn't say what Charlie had to do to receive that "big raise" he promised him, how much it could be, or when it would occur. And disappointment did result, for both parties.

All that we have talked about in this series deals with various aspects of managing expectations, including identifying our own expectations, ensuring we understand the expectations of others and negotiating to resolve conflicting expectations. But in many of those cases, the measures prescribed are reactive, not proactive. Rather than waiting to find out what others expectations are and acting accordingly, in some situations it is feasible and desirable to manage the creation of their expectations as they are being formed.

In the workplace, we can manage the expectations of others whether our role is that of leader, co-worker or subordinate.

As a leader
Leadership has been defined in other columns I've written as being the formation of a vision, the sharing of that vision, and equipping and inspiring others to help attain that vision. It is easy to see that in order to do so, the leader must manage the expectations of those being led.

  • When communicating, anticipate counterproductive reactions that could form undesirable expectations. Try to avoid them by improving the quality of your message to prevent confusion, discussing the issue with key influencers ahead of time to minimize the negative reaction, and by forthrightly addressing the topic by letting people know what expectations will be most appropriate
  • Ahead of time, ask yourself what set of expectations would be mutually beneficial if held by those you lead. Work to establish those expectations.

As a co-worker
When part of a team or work group where mutual dependencies exist (which is almost always the case), and thus mutual expectations exist:

  • Make sure others know of your capabilities and limitations.
  • Communicate ahead of time what can be expected of you.
  • Regularly check in with co-workers to see if you are meeting their expectations of you.

As a subordinate
Managing the expectations of a supervisor can be delicate, but nonetheless important.

  • If you are given an assignment with incomplete parameters, such as when it is due, fill in the blanks yourself and communicate this to your supervisor, such as by stating when you expect to complete the assignment
  • When working on something that is either routine or that you have initiated yourself, let your supervisor know about it ahead of time along with the rationale and/or outcomes.

Next, the final issue in the series:The Power of Harmonious Expectations on SNEWS® Nov. 3, 2006

© Ascent Advising 2006 (reprinted exclusively by SNEWS® with permission)

Dave Bartholomew is a principal with Ascent Advising, providing wide-ranging business advisory services to companies around the globe. His 30 years in leadership roles in the outdoor industry equip him well for coming alongside business owners and executive teams in moving their companies ever upward. His popular email newsletter, “Adages from Ascent”, brings to light vital and innovative concepts for running a business. For a free subscription, and to view past issues of the newsletter, visit and follow the link for “Adages from Ascent.” Dave can be reached at or 206-669-7055.


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