There are a plethora of reasons why a plan or an idea isn’t delivered the way it was intended. It could be a bad plan, the wrong people or poor communication; But if I had to isolate one reason more than any other that results don’t wind up coming through “As Promised” it would come down to a shortfall in setting proper expectations.

I’m sure many of you have heard the age old saying “Under promise and Over Deliver.” Right?

This seems like a safe way to approach business as it is hard to go wrong when you do this. However, I have reservations about this saying because the very act of under promising may mean that you cannot meet the initial expectation which can also cost you.

I tend to promote that you promise what you will deliver, and that you do it from the beginning.

What you must be sure of in today’s competitive landscape is that you are careful what you promise and that you make sure that what you promise meets the need and what you deliver meets the “Expectation.”

This rings true throughout the value chain. Let’s explore the importance of setting expectations with customers, employees and suppliers.

Customers: Everyone on the planet is a customer at one time or another. Whether you are buying a cup of coffee or an airplane, you are somebodies customer. Let’s use the coffee as an example. If you walk into a coffee shop and you order a cup of coffee you probably have a few expectations. The coffee will be hot, it will be somewhat fresh and that it will cost you whatever the advertised price is. Say on the day that you walked into the shop the coffee shop (first of the year) they had just changed pricing but hadn’t reflected it on the menu yet. At the time of purchase if the cashier said “Mr. Customer, the prices have changed effective the new year, so before you order I wanted to let you know,” and then provided you the price. In this case, you the consumer can process that info and make a decision to go ahead and buy the coffee anyway. If the cashier just rings you up at the new price and then you ask them why the price changed and they say “oh yeah, new year, new price,” chances are you are going to pay for the coffee and leave and think what a shady little move.

Now, the example being coffee doesn’t represent huge dollars, but what it does represent is importance of setting the appropriate expectations. When a customer is presented with a change or limitation (especially a negative one) prior to making a purchase they tend to be more accepting of that change. As transactions become larger this becomes exponentially more important. By being more transparent in what can and cannot be delivered, you and your company are in a better position to deliver customer satisfaction.

Employees: As a leader of people, setting expectations is one of the most important practices. I often discuss how “Perception is Reality,” meaning regardless of what you say, people will hear and decode the info however they choose. For example if you have an employee and you tell them they can earn a bonus of $5,000.00 if they meet their quota and complete the following 4 tasks, often all they hear is $5,000.00 bonus. It isn’t because they are bad people, it is just a common wiring issue. That is why you have to make sure you are very clear upfront on the “Entire” requirement for them to attain the said bonus. Make sure they understand without question all of the components of them achieving the incremental income.

Often as managers when these types of situations come to a head and the employee is asking about the bonus that they didn’t entirely earn it puts the leader in a weak position. This is because they don’t feel they are being unfair by not paying the bonus, however they didn’t work hard enough to make sure the expectations were understood. As a leader it is worth it for the sake of the operation and the employee to take a little more time to make sure the expectations are very clear.

Quite often organizations don’t feel any sense of loyalty to their suppliers. This is because they are back in the “customer” role. However in the value chain a supplier is more than just someone whom you consume goods from. In most cases a supplier has a strategic value in the procurement of goods and services that your organization needs to deliver to your customer. Therefore it is important to communicate bi-directionally with your suppliers and be a good provider of information to them as well. They may want to know more about your business, buying power or forecast. A lot of customers don’t feel these conversations are important. However, if the only expectation that you set for your suppliers is that you will call them when you need something from them then you have to realize what the repercussions may be for this approach. For example, when you need something turned around quickly or an increase in credit because you just received a large order and now you are the one in need; does your one way expectation come back to haunt you?

There is no relationship in your business that doesn’t warrant an expectation. Even if the expectation is very minimal in nature. The importance is that the expectations are set clearly, communicated often and never taken for granted.

If it is better results you are seeking, then start by setting better expectations.

In this short video we discuss the importance of expectation setting in business today.