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Things go wrong in business for a variety of reasons. Failure to create clear expectations is a big culprit.

12 October 2007
Things go wrong in business for a variety of reasons, but a few culprits are responsible for more than their fair share of grief. No, I’m not talking about that person in the next department who is constantly demoralizing others – I’m talking about the failure to create clear expectations.
 
Consider how many customer issues are caused by lack of clear expectations. If an advertising group is fixated on the beauteousness of their designs, their photos, or their words, they may enhance the advertising to the point that the product is no longer accurately depicted. Customers become frustrated when the product they receive doesn’t compare to the product they expected.
 
At one time, while going through a major systems conversion, my company’s normally fast telephone response times suffered badly. The customers weren’t only frustrated – they were also angry. If we had done a better job of communicating in advance what to expect, there probably would have still been frustration, but not anger.
 
There isn’t a service or product provider in the world who likes to be paid late, but a phone call in advance will buy you both a few additional days and goodwill in nearly every situation. The vendor isn’t left to invent reasons to be concerned, because you have established clear expectations.
 
One of the biggest areas of failure to establish clear expectations is with employees. There is so much ‘clear-if-known’ information in a business. Management may be looking at that information every day, but the majority of employees are not. Failure to communicate clear financial expectations, clear expectations regarding future direction of the company, or clear expectations regarding the impact of a new competitor will leave employees feeling insecure, and could cause them to jump ship.
 
Failure to set clear expectations also damages employee-manager relationships. Managers who fail to establish clear performance, development, or improvement expectations can not expect their employees to be successful. And when the employee is completely surprised and upset by either disciplinary action or termination, you can’t blame them – their expectations weren’t clearly set in advance.
 
Even if you are doing everything else right, another reason for failure to create clear expectations is that we tend to interpret words differently from one another. Communication skills are dreadfully lacking in most organizations – from the most educated to the least – and as a result, people may think they have done the work of setting clear expectations only to find out later there was a misunderstanding.
 
I am not suggesting utter clarity is easy. It’s not. It takes discipline and focus to make sure that expectations are clearly set with the correct stakeholders in every corner of our business. But is it worth it? Well, you can answer that. How much effort does it take to clean up after all the problems that result from failure to set clear expectations?
 
(c) 2007, Andrea M. Hill
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