Single Parent Faith

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Work— Managing Expectations

“Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.” –Ralph Marston

In a conversation with a co-worker who I admire, he was explaining how he was preparing to have a discussion with his manager to set expectations of what is possible to be accomplished due to his own “bandwidth.” There are so many projects he’s asked to assist with, that he could not possibly engage in all of them at any deep and detailed level. Not only is there not enough time in a week, there isn’t even in a year.

Listening to him, gave me the idea to do the same with my manager. After all, she’s interested in my success, as much as I’m interested in doing a great job for her and the organization. I scheduled a meeting with her as a “heading check.”

I prepared for it. I listed all the projects she had me working, and I assigned durations (how long each takes to complete) with estimated start and end dates. I assigned an order to them, which are to be performed before which. There are many software tools to assist with this. And without any, you could put something together in Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint. You’re going for the visual representation which will make a discussion more fruitful.

Once I had it all laid out, I realized why I was feeling so stressed. Seeing it displayed in front of me, I could then quantify the magnitude of my severe schedule challenge.  

I went down my list, one by one, and determined a feasible maturity to assign to the product I was to deliver at the end of it’s schedule date. For instance, where I had to produce a design manual, I specified a “preliminary draft,” rather than a published version. I would then define what that means and what it doesn’t mean. Understanding that I had many more tasks to perform that year, I had to be realistic and define the appropriate maturity (completion state) by which I could claim I completed a  task. That doesn’t mean it stops there. I could mature it further the following year for instance. Or, if the manager wanted a finished version this year, then she could determine which item (lesser priority) falls off this year’s list to make room for that task.

When I arrived to the meeting with my schedule, she could see that I thought this out and was poised to deliver everything she wanted, but with expectations clearly explained. This would prevent the risk of missing the mark and falling short of her expectations, downstream. The purpose of my heading check meeting was to:

1.    Make sure I understood her expectations of the tasks and their expected state of completion, and get her buy-in.
2.    Giving her the opportunity to correct or buy into the appropriate levels of priority to each task. Once she saw the visual of all tasks she asked me to perform, she could see tangibly what a challenge it would be to accomplish them all at detailed finished states.
3.    I never tried to drop anything off my plate, nor present the material with a negative tone like, “I won’t be able to do this task, nor this one, given all the work I have to do.” I simply gave her the opportunity to discuss with me the best approach to accomplish them. The key is in agreeing to the complexity/detail of the level of the deliverable. It’s important for you to set the tone initially with what completion state you can accomplish, given your bandwidth (all the work you are to perform). Don’t show up without knowing this otherwise you leave it to your manager to figure it all out for you, and I can guarantee she will choose a state that’s impossible to meet even if you bring a cot in your office and say good-bye to your family for a year or two.
4.    Also, your manager is busy enough, and appreciates it if you show up to the meeting not expecting her to make all the decisions. If you arrive already having worked it out in your mind, the less stress you apply on her to make more decisions.
5.    Your meeting is to confirm that you are on track with her expectations— schedule, priority, and the state of what you are to deliver.

This exercise taught me how valuable it is to manage expectations, both my manager’s and mine. When you have clear communication, it makes for a less stressful work environment. It’s no different from one’s personal life. Communication is key.

I also learned to take accountability for my workload. If I don’t do my part to mirror to my manager what she’s communicated to me, then I’m only setting myself up in victim mode
Opening the door to unrealistic expectations. No one succeeds in that kind of set-up. Now that companies are doing “more (work) with less (people),” it’s imperative not to whine and complain, but rather take ownership of how we are treated. This means to act as grown-ups and take on the responsibility of communicating expectations.
Ella Venezia
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.

Image Source:  All Rights reserved by gadl

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