When expectations propel you to brilliance – to your full potential – expectations are great. When they threaten, they debilitate.
Contrast the last Rugby World Cup and the recent Cricket World Cup.
During the last Rugby World Cup, we expected – demanded that – the All Blacks be in the final, and win. We were not going to settle for anything less. They got there but did we really enjoy that tournament? There was an air of desperation with each game. Each win a relief as opposed to excitement. (The cruel taunts of George Gregan fresh in our ears from previous failed campaigns – “Another 4 years!”) They won – but at huge personal (and health!) cost.
For the recent Cricket World Cup, we were delighted with each win, exuberant at the possibility of doing the impossible…… Even though we lost the final, we responded with sober acceptance. This was reality. It is not as if the wrong team won.
How does this translate into business? The lessons are profound. Am I saying expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed? Certainly not. The Pygmalion Effect is well researched and reveals quite clearly that positive expectations are part of what influences peak performance. It is the manner in which expectations are expressed and experienced that makes all the difference.
The complications are that:
- The expectations have to come from someone significant to count
- In organisations, someone ‘significant’ means someone with power
- Having power over others is usually threatening and often leads to people reacting in a range of ways that are usually defensive – hardly the setting for aspiration and growth.
Therein lies the problem. If staff experience expectations as unreasonable and the leader as out of touch, they will react negatively. They may even experience your input (read: demands) as heavy-handed and oppressive (even bullying).
- How do you avoid such a backlash while still setting high standards for delivering as required by stakeholders to ensure continuation of your business unit?
- How do you prevent people reacting to performance expectations with fear of failure which drives performance down (as people work to cover their behinds, avoid risk, use subterfuge and focus on proving failure was due to factors outside of their control)?
Having great expectations of people is essential for their success. So is your basic belief that they are capable of anything under the right conditions. The secret is to uncover those conditions and implement them consistently, no matter what. With our rich history of success in both sport and business, those conditions are surely well proven and frequently discussed and documented.
Use this as a checklist – implement these and then you can expect that the sky is the limit:
- A belief that people want to succeed and are a rich untapped source of new ways of succeeding more smartly and quickly
- Appropriate selection of people for the team plus crystal clarity about what success in THIS team requires of each person
- Agreements (pacts) with the team and individuals about their contribution to team success and how they will monitor and self-correct to ensure success for everyone
- Agree that everyone will track their own contribution using performance indicators that give early signals of success or otherwise for quick adjustment of actions to ensure success
- Membership of the team means signing up to agreed team success factors and putting the team’s purpose and positive impact first
A comes before E in the dictionary. Remember that before you can EXPECT anything of anyone, you have to have their willing and informed AGREEMENT. Without this, you will at best waste time and cause conflict and at worst, fail. Can you afford that?
Nice article and all very true in sports teams and business teams. I can think of a few recent examples where this type of thinking would be very useful to establishing a successful team culture in business.
Thanks for your feedback Russell! Yes, business has much to learn from sport and vice versa – after all, both are groups of people in pursuit of a number of achievements and successes with various obstacles in the path. Those who are fit, smart and flexible make success look easy!