The law of perpetually expanding expectations -- Part IV

Part IV in a series identifies the pros and cons of expanding expectations.

I once heard this law stated this way: "Success is doing whatever it is you didn't do." Rarely is the concept carried to this extreme, but many of us do have a tendency to always want more. No matter how hard someone works, they should have worked harder. No matter how fast or how good a job they do, we want more and better. There can be a place for this, but it is often not done constructively.

When expanding expectations are good
When expectations are carefully and deliberately expanded as part of a continuous improvement program, for instance, it can be a win/win situation. And goals usually do get tougher and tougher from one period to the next, and that is not necessarily problematic.

Usually, however, continuously expanding expectations is not part of a well-thought-out plan developed in the spirit of cooperation. Instead, this often reflects an attitude of discontent or even greed. The comments in this article are not directed at the constructive approach of a continuous improvement program, but at the destructive and counterproductive tendency to consistently expand our expectations of others.

When expanding expectations are not good
Recall Charlie, the new warehouse supervisor that I talked about in "The dangers of unstated expectations -- Part II?" He was told that he was the new warehouse supervisor, and that if he did a good job, he would get a big raise. Imagine his surprise, then, when his boss tells him, "Charlie, I want to give you a raise, but you only got inventory turns to increase from two to three. I was really looking for four turns. You should be able to do that Charlie."

Charlie likely felt great that he had improved turns by 50 percent, only to be told that he should have improved turns by 100 percent!

Some characteristics of dangerously expanding expectations to watch for:

  • Expectations are changed after the assignment has been made, but before the conclusion of the project or time period in question.
  • Expectations are set based on what is deemed to be possible, not on what is needed.
  • Goals and metrics change more often than they are static.
  • Goals, metrics and timelines are often ignored because they change so frequently.
  • A culture of frustration because the boss can "never be satisfied."

Next in the series: The Advantages of Managed Expectations on SNEWS® Oct. 23, 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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