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Just Do What You Say

Business isn’t so easy when it is a guessing game.

Sometimes, I think that things could be so much more straightforward if we were all a little bit more honest with the assessment of our expectations and capabilities. You have to be a mind-reader to spot those who are over-promising in order to bring them back down to earth. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who under-promise and aim for a peaceful existence. They are even more frustrating and need constant kicks to keep them moving.

The phrase “managing expectations” fits these two scenarios perfectly – and, in my view, it is the scourge of modern business.

The problem starts with the “expectations” in the first place. That comes down to the boss – their attitude is crucial if you want to stop the guessing game.


If an employee knows that the boss likes to set stretch targets, then they will be more likely to over-promise, but the problem here is that you cannot know to what extent they are over-promising. Bosses should be transparent and realistic with their targets – if you over-deliver, great, but if you say you can meet it, you have to have the courage of your convictions.

If the employee knows that the boss expects them to smash their targets every time, then they will likely under-promise, but again, unless each employee is clear about how much they are under-promising by, the end result is shrouded in mystery. There is no point asking for a forecast if it doesn’t reflect reality.

Yet, people continue to play these games, and valuable resource is lost managing the unpredictable outcomes. The best-run businesses have a good handle on what their revenue expectations are for the coming quarter – they can budget with confidence, and there are less nasty surprises. Surprises will always happen, but by expecting people to “do what they say,” they will be minimized.

When business is run in an open and transparent fashion, stress levels will also decrease. An employee can set out their case with the facts in hand, and the boss can see the logic in their arguments. When people are realistic about their goals, there is one less thing to worry about, and they can get on with doing their jobs. There is nothing worse than dreading the continuous management meetings to explain why they are 20% down on target all the time.

Honesty is the key aspect from both sides. Neither the boss nor the employee should set unrealistic goals. It is ok for the target to be challenging, but not to the extent that it is unlikely to happen. That is when motivation plummets and the spiral of failure begins.

It would be an interesting experiment if employees and bosses could take an “honesty pill” for a few months….

“So, what are your expectations? So, what can you deliver?”

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