A teenager is told to come home immediately after his sporting event. Instead of coming straight home, he texts one parent to see if it is okay that he go grab some post-game food with one of his buddies. That parent does not respond to the text so the teenager determines it is okay to go out.
The other parent is sitting at home waiting patiently for his son to get home. He texts his son (because we all know teenagers rarely talk on the phone anymore) to ask when he is coming home. His son, instead of replying with a time says, “Are you home tonight? I thought I would be home alone.”
“I am home and you didn’t answer my question,” is the father’s impatient response. After an irregularly long text string back-and-forth the son finally says he asked mom if he could go get some food with John but she didn’t respond so he decided to just go.
“You knew you were to come home immediately after the game. This is not a negotiation. If you were not given permission to go somewhere else, expectations were that you would be home. So come how now.”
Expectation is an interesting topic. Meeting expectations, exceeding expectations and failing to meet expectations are applicable to all ages. They apply to the youngest of children to the oldest adult. They apply to students and employees. They apply to spouses and parents.
Setting expectations should be very easy. It includes stating the facts and criteria. Simple. If there are questions as to those facts and criteria, the questions should be asked. If no questions are asked, it is assumed the expectations are understood.
Why then, is it so common for people to complain they didn’t know what the expectations were? Even if you are not given clear expectations, it is your responsibility to ask for clarification. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for clarification. Rather, it is sign of maturity.
Whether giving or receiving responsibility, setting expectations are on the shoulders of both parties. It’s as simple as answering the five W questions:
Who – Who is responsible for doing the work? Can it be delegated?
What – What is to be done? What should the output or final product be?
When – What is the project timeline? When should it start and end? Are there percentage of completion expectations at certain points in the middle?
Where – Where should this be performed? Does it have to be performed in the office or can some of the work be completed at home? Where should the final product be delivered?
Why – This is possibly the most important step and is often overlooked. The person doing the work should know why it is being done. That gives meaning to the project. Meaning, or “the why,” can have a huge impact on how well it is done.
How – How to complete the project is what many people focus on. Managers often believe there is only one way to do something. That is the method that is taught, if a method is taught. Giving instruction as how to complete a project is important.
However, good managers will provide flexibility to employees as to how to complete a project. Maybe there is a better way the manager hasn’t yet discovered. The common method should be explained but the freedom to try another method should also be given.
If the setting expectations phase was properly done, meeting expectations is a formality, assuming the person completing the task has the ability and time necessary to complete a project.
If it is determined expectations are not going to be met, that needs to be communicated up the chain of command. Maybe the time requirement at the beginning was not feasible but no one knew because it was a completely new type of project.
Maybe some delays occurred during the project because of lack of supplies, not receiving information timely from a third party, etc. It seems like there are always some sort of delays. Many delays, however, can be prevented by setting expectations with others.
If you are waiting on a third party for information or supplies, expectations need to be set with that third party. The exact setting expectations process above will likely need to be performed several times during any project. Everyone involved will have a different set of answers to the five Ws.
Now for the fun part. Exceeding expectations is how promotions and raises are earned, praises are sung and kudos are given. Meeting expectations is expected. That’s why it’s called an expectation. Anything less than the expectation is failure.
So you really have two options. You can plan on meeting expectations or you can plan on exceeding expectations. If expectations are already so high (yes, everyone wants something to be done perfectly), how can you exceed those expectations?
As your mother told you while growing up, “If you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability.” As with anything you should put forth full effort. Effort should never be questioned.
You cannot work too hard.
Therefore, the expectation is that you will do your best. How do you do better than your best? That’s actually not the question. The expectations set with answering the five Ws may not require your best. It may only require half your talent and focus. So, it’s as simple as exceeding expectations.
Here are some ways for exceeding expectations:
1. Complete it sooner – If you have a one week deadline, finish the project a day early. This is the old saying of “Under promise. Over Deliver.” Start the project early. Focus on it until its done. Get it done early. Maybe work a few extra hours one day to get it done.
When you complete the project early, it will be clear how you exceeded expectations.
2. Do more – Complete the project but add some bells and whistles to make it better. You met the expectation of what was to be done but you did even more. You made a better project.
3. Be more efficient – Maybe there is a budget of hours for how long this project should take. This is how every project works within the public accounting field in which I work. If you can complete the project but it will not take as much time as was budgeted, you can then put your efforts to another project. Exceeding expectations will make things more profitable overall.
4. Teach someone else – If you are the only person who knows how to complete the project, that will make you closer to irreplaceable. However, it can also add unwanted stress and requirements to your already busy schedule.
Teach someone of a lower pay grade how to complete the project. Work along side him/her but let him/her do most of the work (under your guidance). After the project, there will be two people who now can complete this type of project. The company’s capacity to complete more of these projects just doubled. And, it’s all because you taught someone else by exceeding expectations.
5. Create an SOP – You may not be able to teach someone to complete the project because there may not be someone available to do so. However, you can create a standard operating procedure for how to complete the project. A very detailed and written SOP will permit others to be able to complete a similar project without your assistance.
Good SOPs will be very detailed. They will also include samples and pictures of what is done. No detail or procedure is too minute. Another person may not have your base of knowledge so the more you write down, the better.
If you’re exceeding expectations, you need to make it known. Busy managers will not notice you’re exceeding expectations. They will only know the project is complete.
It’s okay to tell your boss you went above and beyond what was asked. If you don’t, you will get no credit. Maybe you don’t want explicit credit and praise. That’s okay. That’s the sign of a great employee. If you don’t let your boss know though, that extra effort will not help you be promoted or earn more of a raise/bonus.
Telling others of what you’ve accomplished does not mean you have a big ego. Egos are good. Conceit is not. Have an ego but don’t be conceited.
Now it’s your turn to share. Write in the comments below an example of how you’re exceeding expectations in something you’ve done. Can you relate that to one of the five ways of exceeding expectations above? Describe which one and how you did it. If there is another category of exceeding expectations, let me know that as well.