Ever been bitten by mismanaged expectations?
Sadly it happens all too often – we hear the frustrated and angry cries of the team – ‘why didn’t you say? If only we knew last week?’
Can you imagine the cries of desperation within advisory circles in the Federal Government and around the State Government Cabinet rooms with the abandonment of targets for the COVID vaccination roll-out? Not to mention the frustration on the front-line with GPs and health centres being “kept in the dark.”
Situations like Australia’s bungled vaccine rollout are all too common and have painful consequences, not to mention how much such blunders exponentially increase reputational risk. What can be done – practically and simply – to avoid such angst?
First, let’s set some context – with low trust levels and such high expectations of ‘speed’ – it has never been so important to live up to commitments particularly when the stakes are high, as they are with the vaccination program.
Let us also remember that the next big thing is always informed by the last big thing.
Australia was successful at managing the pandemic (last big thing), so there were certain expectations that the next big thing – the vaccine roll-out – would be as equally successful. And ‘Scotty from Marketing’ certainly added to those expectations when he boasted in November last year that the government’s Covid-19 strategy would put “Australia at the front of the queue for a safe and effective vaccine”.
Surely ‘Scotty from Marketing’ would be aware of the age-old advice of ‘under-promise and over-deliver.’ I think we give him a big fail when setting the expectations for the COVID roll-out.
Prime Minister, leaders everywhere, let us remember that we human beings seek predictability. In fact, the more uncertain, frightening and complex the situation (and this is most certainly the case with the COVID vaccines), the more we grasp for predictability.
For an example in what to say to manage expectations, let us go back to 9/11 – a very terrifying and tragic time for so many with such a huge impact – when the then Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani who when asked to predict the number of casualties, he replied with the now famous statement : “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear.” That is a powerful statement – it’s a truth we can accept, as one death would be more than any one family “could bear” let alone thousands.
In uncertain, high-risk situations there are some basic rules for managing and setting expectations:
First and most importantly, understand, very clearly, the ‘mood’ of the community? Ask these questions and keep asking until you have clarity on the expectations across all your key audiences:
- What are they thinking?
- What are they feeling?
- What are they saying?
- What are they doing?
And adjust your strategy to meet and match expectations –realistically.
More specifically, ask these questions BEFORE embarking on your strategy:
1. Does the leader know the expectations of the teams who will be rolling out the strategy?
2. Has the leader clearly communicated those expected standards?
3. Do the team members understand and accept the leader’s expectations? If not, why not?
4. Has the leader gained the commitment of the team member to consistently meet those standards in a timely manner?
5. Has the leader provided the right supportive environment so these expectation can be met?
Managing expectations is challenging. Do it well and you will thrive, do it badly, and you’ll barely survive.
Bottom line?Perception = reality.
Know thy self. Know thy audience. Know thy expectations.