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Two things in the past couple of days reminded me how important it is to set expectations when undertaking any kind of task. First, yesterday the heat in my condo went out. I called the furnace guy that I use (yes, I have a furnace guy…) and asked him to come take a look. He said it was probably not a big deal and I shouldn’t worry. 2 hours and $350 later I realized he was wrong.  I do not think he ripped me off, in fact, I’m sure I got a very reasonable price for the work that he did (the other estimate I got was $75 per half hour, plus parts and materials – so labor alone would have been $300).  I’m confident that he fixed the problem, he showed up quickly, worked diligently and minimized the disruption in my life. However, at the end of the whole thing I was left pretty annoyed. I’ve realized that it’s all because I was expecting minimal work and minimal cost. “Probably not a big deal”. Those 5 words set incorrect expectations and led me to be dissatisfied at the end of the transaction.Had he omitted those 5 words the entire outcome would have been different.

The second thing that made me think of the importance of setting expectations was a meeting I had with my manager today. We finally found time to go over my goals and expectations for my current project (I’ve been at this client for about 6 weeks now). My manager put together a list of expectations from me and we both discussed how to achieve my goals and have the biggest impact on the client and my career. Seeing the expectations laid out on paper ( a simple word document) really crystallized the areas on which I need to focus. My entire perception of my work weeks and how I’ll structure my time has changed because of this 30 minute meeting. It turns out that I’ve been doing everything that my manager expected of me, but his method of laying out (and the patterns he pointed out) completely changed the way I thought about (and thus the method I’ll employ to complete the required tasks). My life just got a whole lot clearer (not necessarily simpler, but the fog has been lifted). I wonder how much smoother the last 6 weeks would have gone had we had this conversation on day 1 or day 2.

Neither of these examples is particularly earth shattering. I’m sure everyone has been in situations where there was a disconnect / misunderstanding in expectations. I just found it interesting how two simple events in two days could drive home for the importance of setting reasonable expectations. Fortunately for me, I’d been meeting most, if not all, of the goals my manager expected, so there were no terrible repercussions. And fortunately for my furnace guy, I’ve known him long enough, and have a strong enough relationship with him, that I’ll still call him the next time something breaks. But this could have turned out badly for both him and me.

It’s always a good reminder that no matter what you’re doing you should set clear expectations for all stake holders. Let your employees know what is expected of them (“The path to success” as one of my bosses called it). Don’t guess at the cause of a problem – and thus the time and money required to fix it – before you have all the facts. Make sure your customers are given timely and accurate information. Let your girlfriend know that your new assignment is going to require longer hours. There’s myriad examples where clear expectations result in better outcomes and stronger, longer lasting relationships. And yet sometimes we fail to have that conversation that explains our expectations. Maybe we get to busy, maybe we forget, maybe we decide it’s too awkward, or maybe we decide that we don’t really need that conversation. But my advice, always level set. It doesn’t take long and the benefits can be substantial.

Good Talk,
Tom

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