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Could Managing Expectations Be an Own Goal for England?

20/06/2014 13:13 BST | Updated 18/08/2014 10:59 BST

Ahead of every election, political parties act out a well rehearsed charade. Their press teams produce a gloomy briefing predicting a poor outcome and leak it, with long faces and worried expressions, to a favourite journalist. If campaigners on the ground are expecting to win 500 seats in local elections, the press are told that 250 would be a good result. So begins the process of managing expectations.

It is about setting a low bar with a view to creating a narrative that ensures the actual results look like a big win, or a not so bad loss.

This appears to be what the England Football Team has done ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Either by accident or design, the Football Association (FA) has neatly minimised expectations for the Three Lions. The headlines that followed the team's defeat against Italy at the weekend were the most positive any defeated England side has seen. Importantly for the FA, the approach is likely to prevent the usual post World Cup round of political attacks over the way the game is run, and endless questions of why a country with the best league in the world punches below its weight at major championships.

Not everyone wins the game of expectation management. For example, retailers and publicans get hugely excited at the prospect of a good tournament run. So we shouldn't necessarily admire expectation management that dampens economic activity. And for a sport that relies on hype to sell handsomely priced commercial and television rights, is this approach really that smart?

And I am not sure it helps on the pitch. Any great player or team will tell you that learning to play in a highly pressurised environment helped them to succeed. The pressure of high expectations back home is not always a bad thing, particularly as a learning curve for those who are less experienced. As Thomas Carlyle once wrote, "no pressure, no diamonds." Even as a so-called 'developmental' World Cup for England, providing players with an excuse for failure is not sensible. The English media will always be tough and demanding, voicing the views of their fans. This is a reality young players need to be able to cope with if the nation is ever to be successful again on the international stage.

Business can learn a lot from politics - and sport - in terms of managing public expectations. Companies are getting smarter at this game - down playing expectations in the business pages in advance of difficult results. But too often company leaders fail to control the narrative by overstating their ambition in the first place. Corporate Britain is littered with the bodies of business leaders who promised big and delivered small.

Business leaders should always put their long term strategy ahead of any desire for an early goal - a bit like the FA.