There’s no question that the expectations we set for ourselves and our organizations have a significant impact on results. Therefore, leaders need to use the right processes and spend time setting expectations for success. We’re all familiar with the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies. Wikipedia defines it as “the socio-psychological phenomenon of someone ‘predicting’ or expecting something, and this ‘prediction’ or expectation coming true simply because the person believes it will and the person’s resulting behaviors aligning to fulfill the belief.”

Expectations also influence satisfaction. I once boarded a plane where the comical flight attendant announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, if we don’t meet your expectations in any way during this flight, please lower your expectations.” The passengers all got a laugh, but there is also a powerful message here about how we feel when results fall short of expectations.

The Envisioned Future and Setting Successful Expectations

One of the first things we tackle with new clients is the setting of a long-term Envisioned Future. This becomes their ‘True North’ which, if well established and understood, acts as a guide to all short-term and long-term goal setting and decision making.

Achieving excitement or engagement about the Envisioned Future with employees may require a certain amount of detail. This is called creating a painted picture for the future which describes what it will be like when the future state is achieved. Brian Scudamore, the founder of 1800GotJunk based in Vancouver, describes it this way:

“I go back to the drawing board every four years and envision future possibilities. We call this document our “Painted Picture” and it continues to be the North star of our business. I now develop it with my team and incorporate our communal hopes and goals. It’s framed and hung in the lobby of the Junktion (our office) as a constant reminder of where we’re headed.”

In 1961, when John F. Kennedy announced that, “by the end of the decade we will put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth,” it was an excellent statement of the desired Envisioned Future. At the time national pride was at stake, the United States was embroiled in the Cold War, and this statement brought together a nation against a common enemy in the so-called Space Race.  It created thousands of jobs, advanced new technologies, and improved the ruling party’s political stability with voters, but those were just byproducts to an Envisioned Future that had meaning for the country’s citizens.

The Power of Progress: 3 Steps to Success
steps to setting expectations for success

In her book, “The Progress Principle”, Harvard professor Teresa Amabile claims that seeing progress towards a goal or successful expectation is a motivator for employees and drives higher levels of engagement. For this to occur, leaders must establish a cascading system of goals and expectations throughout the company which can be visible and objectively measured. This system includes:

Strategic Goals and Measures of Success

Clarity of the main objective, longer-term goals (like putting a man on the moon in 9 years) as well as 1-3-5-year measures and targets. Often these are financial (e.g. revenue, earnings) but can also include customers served, number of employees, geographic reach, and a variety of other definitions of success.

Quarterly Priorities and Targets

Breaking the annual targets down even further, winning organizations establish 90-day priorities and targets aligned to the annual and 3-5 year expectations for success.

Tracking Company Success Role Scorecards

The final element of the system of expectations for success is at the individual level. Every team member needs clear, objective expectations of success captured in role scorecards for each role. All the role scorecards, when looked at in aggregate, need to advance the organization towards its vision; it is a system of collaborating parts not unlike an automobile that has many unique components that result in transporting us from place to place. Our friend Stephen Lynch writing for The Economist states, “It is even better when this concept can be taken to a higher level of granularity, and every key individual has their own personal top three action priorities for the quarter. If you can combine this level of focus with a culture of accountability, your organization will become truly effective at executing strategy.”

If you would like a free role scorecard template for your company, reach out to our team.

Expectations vs. Budgets

expectations for success vs successful budgets
Most organizations set financial budgets. These are usually administered and aggregated by finance teams with input from department leaders who are rewarded on meeting or exceeding budget numbers. As such, budget numbers are often overly conservative and do not stretch the organization to its full potential.

Leaders must be aware of this, and we suggest that the envisioned future, strategic goals, and even role scorecard metrics be set separately from budgets. Consider the budget numbers as the conservative or worst-case scenarios, while other goals and targets are the ideal.

Setting Expectations for Success

Successful organizations and leaders pay careful attention to the expectations they set. They use the self-fulfilling prophecy effect to advantage, and ensure there is a well communicated and understood system of expectations for success across various timeframes (long and short term) and scope (company, departments and individuals). They make the progress towards expectations visible to drive high levels of motivation and accountability.

If you’d like to explore how your organization’s expectation system measures up, consider applying for our free Business Execution Assessment, or just reach out to start a conversation.