Question and Answer

Q. Your Ezine referenced something that I struggle with almost daily.  I’m definitely known for having very high expectations that aren’t so easy to meet.  I wondered if you could elaborate on what strategies you have seen succeed regarding this, because while I’m sure open to changing my attitude, I’m not thrilled with lowering my expectations.  I’m overly driven…and not far from driven crazy!

A. Believe me, I understand.  It is so easy to look at an issue and think, “I (or we) can do ….(some really high performance in that issue)…” 

And, under ideal circumstances, you really could do that!

The problem is, of course, that rarely does it exist under ideal circumstances.

For example, let’s say that you determine your sales group could build the business by 25 percent this year. So, you, since you are in the habit of creating high expectations, decide to set a goal of a 25 percent increase in sales for your group.

Now, I understand the power of setting high expectations.  And I also understand that setting goals is the first step in serious achievement.  However, the goal itself is only the starting point.  Granted, it is an important starting point, but it is hardly sufficient by itself.

Before you commit to that goal, do some important analysis by answering a couple of questions.

First, “What has to change for your group to achieve that goal?”

I’m assuming that the group did not produce a 25 percent increase this past year.  So, your goal calls for greater performance than in the past.  So, in order to achieve it, something has to be different this year than last year.  What is it?

It may be that a competitor has gone out of business and you expect to scarf up all their former customers.  Or, it may be that something has happened in the market, and now it is 25 percent bigger than it was last year.  In other words, it may be that some external circumstances have occurred to dramatically change the landscape, and you reasonably expect to benefit from that change.  If that’s the case, then your lofty expectation seems reasonable.  If not, then you need to proceed to the next level of analysis.

If there is no major change in business circumstances, then your people will have to do something different in order to achieve your goal.

What are they going to do differently this year than they did last year?

Are they going to work longer?  Are they going to somehow gain insights they didn’t have before and work much smarter?  Are they going to overnight become dramatically more competent?

Don’t think that just because you say it, they are all going to be automatically equipped to do it.  Given no change in market conditions, to create a 25 percent increase requires everyone to act differently.  How are you going to help them do that?

In all this, what I’m trying to say is this:  Before you can expect anyone to do something significantly different than what they have done in the past, you have to show them how to do it, and you have to make sure they are equipped with the tools and resources necessary to do it.

So, when you are considering your lofty goal, stop and consider these things before committing to high expectations.

But, we are not done yet.  Remember, I said there were two things to consider.  The second is

“What will it cost everyone to achieve this?”

One of the counterweights to creating high expectations is to understand them through the perspective of cost.  The problem is that achieving really high performance costs you something.  These costs are usually in the nature of time, emotional energy, and mental activity.

If this issue, “increasing sales” was in a vacuum, and was the only thing your group had to do, then the costs would be reasonable.  But, that never happens.  The reality is, when you expect high performance in some area, you must also expect to pay the price in some other area.

So, you want your group to increase their sales by 25 percent.  In order to do so, they need to invest more time, more energy, and more mental activity in that task than they did in the past.  From where is it going to come?

If you want to do more of something, you generally first have to do less of something else. That’s the cost.

So, if you expect your people to spend 25 percent more time working on their sales, on what should they spend less time?  Maybe prospecting.  Maybe servicing their current accounts.  Maybe attending sales meetings.  Maybe they should spend less time with their families if they are going to accomplish what you want them to in this one area.  The cost has to come from somewhere.

Let me boil all of this down.  The next time you are tempted to create exceedingly high expectations for yourself or others, stop and do a little analysis.  Ask yourself, “What has to change for us to accomplish this?” and “What is it going to cost us in time, emotional energy and mental activity?”

If, on the basis of your thoughtful analysis, the expectation still seems attainable, then go for it.  If the answers to those questions seem to conspire together to make the expectation less likely, then perhaps you should change your expectation to something more in sync with reality.

What is going to change?
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