Employee Development

The Expectation Formula for Internal Commitments

Imagine two scenarios involving employees on your team:expectations

  1. Ahmed is a part of a team working on a long-term project and is tasked with delivering component ABC. Ahmed tells the team he will be able to provide his piece by April 15. This is an aggressive timeline, and the group appreciates his commitment to it. Unfortunately, he runs into some issues and can’t deliver until April 22.
  2. Betty is in the same group and is tasked with delivering component XYZ of the same project. She tells the group she can deliver by April 25. This is several weeks out, but this is a complex project, so the group agrees to that time frame. Ultimately, Betty is able to deliver by April 22, with no need to use up all of the cushion she added in her estimate.

In both scenarios, the deliverables were completed on the same date, but the group probably views Betty’s delivery as more favorable than Ahmed’s because of the expectations that were set.

Setting Expectations

An operations concept borrowed from psychology states that “expectations minus reality equals disappointment.” For example, if a salesperson hypes up a new product to a customer who receives something that doesn’t match that hype, the customer is going to be disappointed.

We’ve talked about this concept before in terms of general customer relations, but it also applies to internal commitments, and it’s important for employees to understand this. It can be tempting to over-promise to avoid disappointing a boss or a team at the outset and then hope to be able to meet that commitment, particularly for new or inexperienced employees.

But that leaves room for the risk of unforeseen obstacles or poor planning. Instead, employees should be taught to determine a realistic time frame for completion and add in some slush time to account for unknowns and risk. If the team or a manager feels that the time frame is unacceptable, a discussion can be had about how to shorten it and clarify expectations.