Monthly Archives: August 2013

To “Meet” or “Exceed” Expectations?

How many times have you felt that you have spent so much time trying to beat performance expectations that you have have actually blown it? That certain expectations need only to be met, and only certain others need to be exceeded?

This aspect about performance has always fascinated me.  The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that it requires leadership of a different caliber to guide team members to realize this and be reassured that not all performance parameters can or need be exceeded. That sometimes, contribution, even by meeting expectations, does matter critically in the context of an organization’s shared purpose. And that, meeting expectations in such instances is a vital foundation to exceeding them later.

Most often, expectations are not deliverables. They are the vision of what the people involved want the final experience to be. And hence certain expectations are extremely tough to meet – and even tougher to do so consistently. The bar may have been set daringly, perilously and ambitiously high. One may be constrained for time or resources. Or there may be just no evenness in the way the odds are stacked.

How can we be seen as not making any of these as excuses for not perceptibly exceeding expectations? And how do we help our members to do so?

As managers, it actually starts with a responsibility to give our members the clarity of why their contribution matters, and how each of their responsibilities is an opportunity to make a difference.

Next, it means defining the specifications of the outcome and any possible expectations early. Give them the reassurance that you are not always looking for dramatic heroics in ‘going the extra mile’.

Encourage them to first deliver on what has been promised, then, do it again and again. Show them how to be happy when they do the work well to meet expectations.  Support them to get into the groove for a consistent track record to build on their success. Guide and challenge them to go bigger and bigger. And finally, wow!

Exceeding expectations is not always about over delivering for the sake of doing so. Au contraire, it is really about doing well what we say we will. It is about feeling proud in keeping the bar high and jumping over it even if by a whisker, rather than keeping it low and vaulting incredibly high over it. It is about being agile to seize opportunities that present themselves for the additional touch of excellence.

As managers, wisdom lies in knowing that each of our members has their own idea and vision of what it means to be successful – and map it to how success looks like for the organization. To draw a clear line of vision of how they can achieve success as a team, and to empower them to exceed beyond this framework should they show the initiative to do so.

We deal with comfort levels of regular people whose workdays and emotions change constantly – on either side of the bridge that we are. The actual field of performance lies in the unerring “if” of meeting the goal – let us bring our team to trust this.  Let us then open the field for them to display their “how well” as a measure of satisfaction. And in so doing, let us find ways and means for them to succeed with happiness.

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Gendered individuals? Or collective strength?

According to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and author of ‘Lean In’, the 3 biggest mistakes women make in the workplace are (a) not sitting at the table and speaking up (b) not making their partners real partners at home and (c) leaving before they should leave, being worried about balancing careers and families.

Mistakes? Are they just that? Can they not be viewed as choices?

And why should gender play a role here at all?

Man or woman, if anyone wants a possible best of two worlds, they give some and take some. The two worlds can be any two vocations – and one of them could very well be home, friends, hobbies and family. Can he determine that the ROI on his work effort does not meet his expectations and aspirations? Can she sensibly see after-hour ‘demands’ as demands, and not glorified opportunities?

There is a feeling that not enough attention is being given to gender in the professional scene. On the other hand, I believe we give too much attention to the wrong aspects of gender and its attendant issues of equality. By keeping arguments gender agnostic, we would be doing lesser disservice to human issues.

Agreed, equity and human rights in the workplace are critically important. Violation of rights, unfairness, bias and prejudices must be shunned and brought to book. But all of these transcend gender and must be viewed and countered so.

Imbalance in representation of any kind, including gender, should be introspected for sound reasons – is this an inefficient and counterproductive squandering of critical resources? Have we, as an organization, failed to maximize our available assets? Have we fallen short of putting the absolutely best players into positions where they can maximize results? All other considerations that are not work-related should be removed from the equation.

The delectable irony is that while organizations aim for peak efficiency and excellence, the people who run them are fallible. As easily as they can be innovative and drive execution to success, they can botch things up by ignorance (and the denial of it) and a meaningless imitation of behaviors and attitudes of perceptions of success. And this is a major reason we grapple cluelessly on the gender issue at the workplace.

Different people use different strokes to be truly present in their lives. And no one has it all anyway. Every day, we turn away from options, dreams and opportunities, both professional and personal – some because we cannot do them, some because we do not want to do them. And some, we go all out to ‘have it all’.

In so doing, the elevator to the top floor may not be the most meaningful journey or choice. So be it. The boardroom may not be the ultimate pot of gold. So be it. For success and trophies have no meaning unless they are what we really want. No stories of sour grapes this, but let us respect the choices of people, who choose to be or not to be. Let us not rush to bring in gender inequality here – unless there really is.

As organizations, the best way to eliminate gender-based misconceptions is to inculcate a more mature viewpoint in all members, so that employees are viewed not as gendered individuals but as a valuable collective strength.

Life is inherently unfair and there is no magic wand to wave it away. But that is no reason why we cannot, as individuals and management representatives, create a workplace where labor and integrity will be recognized and rewarded, and where good men and women will flock to work in. And maybe, over time, we can raise the bar to an accepted common sense that it is totally unnecessary to discuss the role of gender at work.