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Mastering the Art of Expectation Management

19/06/2014 16:12 BST | Updated 19/08/2014 10:59 BST

By far one of the most challenging areas to master in management, and life, is managing expectations. The difficulty is, that more often than not, expectations are defined by what is left unspoken and implied rather than what is actually being said. In the workplace, expectations often influence how employees experience their work environment and if set too high or unrealistic, can lead to disappointment. Therefore, striking the right balance between expectation management and drawing out the best performances is one of the greatest challenges for employees and employers

When things can go wrong, they often do

In many companies it is still the case that business leaders focus on the business outcomes and employees focus on what are the outcomes that the contributions they make lead to. The relationship and, more importantly, communication between the two is very often not invested in. It is for that reason, that expectations can go off the rails on both sides, setting the stage for dissatisfaction or underachievement at work. What amplifies this problem is, that often expectations from both sides are assumed but not stated.

Managing assumptions across all levels however is crucial for success. Amongst other factors, success is also a question of balancing corporate objectives with the expectations and hopes of employees and employer. Clarifying and articulation of expectations, leads to achieving those corporate and personal goals and really depends on how well hopes can be articulated as expectations and jointly sought after.

In the article "The Two Most Important Management Secrets: The Pygmalion and Galatea Effects", HR expert Susan M.Heathfield says that the, "expectations of people and their expectations of themselves are the key factors in how well people perform at work. Known as the Pygmalion effect and the Galatea effect, respectively, the power of expectations cannot be overestimated."

However, clear communication is not all there is to expectation management. Problems usually arise when expectations are misunderstood, not consistent in understanding, or simply keep changing. This can seriously impact performance of employees and, ultimately, the company.

Restoring the balance

To reach equilibrium and function like a cohesive team, the employer and the employee have to be committed to build trust, transparency and flexibility.

The management will have to explain the nature of the business by clearly stating the mission and vision of the company, outlining corporate objectives and demonstrating how each employee and each task add value to the success of the enterprise as a whole. In a fast-paced and dynamic business world, this is far more complicated than it appears. Corporate targets, market requirements, work environments and other influential factors can every day and this then requires flexibility from both leaders and employees to revisit their areas of focus and actions.

Juggling many demands and keeping things agile is not an easy task as a lot of hopes and emotions are involved. Done correctly however, expectation management is one of the most important steps towards a high performing workforce and enterprise.

Building trust within a team and encouraging development, communication and learning from one another will create value on all levels - for the client, the company and the employee. The result of successfully managing expectations, through both self-introspection and sharing the right messages, is passionate employees and engaged employers. Both sides are equally enabled at working towards building their capability, contributing to individual and business growth and empowered to add maximum value to each stage of the business cycle.

In today's scenario, just doing a good job or only concentrating on personal growth is not enough for organisations or employees. Managing the expectations of others as the stakes go up becomes vital in how work is received, recognised and rewarded.