I recently found myself thinking about how often I have heard the phrase “exceeding customer expectations” in the many mission statements and business proposals I’ve seen over the years.
Typically, the term is used in the context of customer relationships. And indeed, understanding—and in many cases, establishing—the customer’s expectations for your products and services is critical to meeting them. Too often, we simply assume what those expectations are, or assume we have no control over them.
As consultant John Gamble pointed out at FM’s recent IDEAS conference, the practice of managing expectations is absolutely critical to a wide range of business and personal activities.
“Salespeople will often say that a company has lost business, not because it did anything wrong, but because ‘a competitor with a sharper pencil took it away from us,’” he observed. “But while customers may talk about price as a rationale, what has typically happened is that, at some point, you have lost their trust. You did something they will not forgive you for.”
That loss of trust or confidence coincides with expectations that either were not met, not clearly established, or not managed effectively. The same principle applies in one’s relationships with an administration, with one’s direct reports, with other departments, with family members.
In the work environment today, many organizations take a fairly structured approach to employee goal setting. Typically, it’s a process that will include annual performance reviews that (at least technically) include a mutual agreement between supervisors and those who report to them about what job performance expectations are and how they will be measured and met. But all too often, it seems this routine is exercised because it is mandated, rather than because it is an opportunity to really agree upon priorities and improve team performance.
Very often, the missing variable in the equation is summed up with one word—mutual. For every expectation expressed by a manager, there is a mutual expectation from the individual who is charged with meeting it. If the expectation is for a certain level of operating results, for example, the other side of that equation will often be an employee’s expectation for the availability of reasonable resources and support to enable the achievement of those results. In the same way, if you are going to establish effective priorities at review time, they cannot change on an arbitrary, ad hoc basis over the course of they year.
Simply expressing one’s expectations, but not seeking agreement on whether they are reasonable in the employee’s eyes, is just another way of losing the trust that Gamble alluded to. If you set what the employee considers to be a set of unrealistic expectations, he or she will not share them and likely will not fulfill them.
In many business environments, expectations are largely one-sided in just this way. The employer sets them on an as-needed basis. Too often, the top-down message is simply “Manage the Situation,” or “Just Make It Happen.”
When you see an organization with poor morale, high turnover and poor operating results, you can be almost certain that an unbalanced expectation equation is a large part of the problem.
In fact, the most effective tool for achieving results is simply to get employees to share your priorities and expectations, to make them their own. When people expect things of themselves, you have a far more powerful motivator working for you than a performance review document. This dynamic can play a role
in many aspects of the day-to-day foodservice work environment. For example, elsewhere in this issue, Terrence Donahue describes the importance of establishing expectations with employees before they are sent for food safety training, and how important that can be in improving the effectiveness of that training.
Expectations have a power in and of themselves. Being able to define, meet and exceed those expectations is the key to personal performance, business growth and customer satisfaction. But to harness the power of expectations, they have to be managed and they have to be mutual. Work on that, and they will work for you.