Expectations: An Exercise in Marksmanship. Aim High. Shoot Higher.

Written on July 1, 2010

It took me entirely too much of my adult life to discover the following blinding flash of the obvious (those of you who’ve already incorporated the following simple human truth into your lives, forgive & ignore).

So, here it is:

My successes almost always result from my deliberate or accidental successful management of other people’s expectations

Here’s an example: When we started Cayenne, I warned my wife long before we pulled the trigger that it would be tough. It was. She expected it. We’re still married. Success. An earthier example: every morning, my dog, Jack, expects to be walked between 6:15 and 6:45. Fail to meet his expectation and he will pee on my shoe.

When it comes to business, I’d be willing to bet that the success of any company depends entirely on the management of client/customer expectations, and that successful people in general are masters at managing expectations of everyone around them. Before I got into advertising, I was in the automotive aftermarket. For the uninitiated, I’m talking about auto parts, or, if you’re in the biz – “parts.” At one point, I managed a large distribution warehouse in Virginia, delivering merchandise to auto parts stores in eight different states, five nights a week. In parts, you get a real lesson in managing expectations.

With parts, the whole process starts with somebody whose expectations haven’t been met – their car has somehow failed. Worse, they expect parts to be available and their car to be fixed the day they take it to the shop. So, by the time we typically got involved, their expectations about the repair had already not been met, and they were being forced to wait for a part to be delivered by some nebulous “warehouse” before their car could be fixed. The garage owner expected a part to be delivered overnight to an auto parts store, where the guy behind the counter expected the part to arrive from the “warehouse,” where the Distribution Manager (me) expected his employee to pull the correct part. Anywhere in this process, there was ample chance for a massive expectation fail – an expectation domino fall that would result in nasty phone calls, epithets, and an avalanche of bad karma. Suffer this kind of fail and I had an entire posse of people who wanted to axle grease and feather me.

Expectation Management doesn’t just apply to business. It figures into almost any human interaction you can think up. Got to work late, tonight? Better start managing somebody’s expectations. Your mother expects a phone call? Dial her up or listen to the music. Your kid expects to see you at the soccer game? Be there. Your accountant expects to see all your numbers? You might want to show your accountant all of them, Mr. I-don’t-want-to-end-up-chummy-with-those-Enron-guys.

That’s Expectation Management 101. Basic. The work of freshmen. Now… if you’ve read this far, I don’t want to leave you with just this – a thought you might consider a Monday morning’s work for Mr. Obvious – the plain Jane baloney. So here’s the special sauce … that little dash of something. And it’s a simple lesson really, Expectation Management 201:

Under-promise.

Then over-deliver.

Client expects a widget? Tell them you’ll shoot for Wednesday. Then have it there close-of-business Tuesday. Working late? Tell her ten and show up at nine with a bottle of wine. Offer up a great deal to your client for a fair price, then turn up with a little extra something. Over-delivery is the essence of excellence. It’s the waitress who brings you the Bombay Sapphire martini gratis, the banker who remembers your name, the doctor’s office that’s on time. It’s the cherry on top, the chocolate on the pillow, the personal thank-you note. Do it and you will always be perceived as the stand-up businessperson, the dependable straight shooter. Just remember: don’t promise something you can’t pull off. And over-deliver. Every time. Aim high. Shoot higher.

– Monroe

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