Under promise. Over deliver.
They’re four of the most important words in public relations and in business.
Expectation management is the most vital tool you have to ensure your success, and it’s one that is completely within your control.
What makes entrepreneurship so exciting–and so nerve-wracking–is the sheer number of variables you don’t control. But setting proper expectations is something only you can do. And once expectations are set you have to no choice but to meet or exceed them.
Managing client expectations is about creating value in a manner and at a cost that is mutually agreeable. The relationship is pretty straightforward; You will deliver X product by Y date in exchange for N dollars. As long as the conditions are met, everyone should be happy.
It starts to get tricky when expectations meet the real world.
Always give yourself more time than you need
Last night I had a long discussion with a friend that triggered this post. One of the biggest takeaways was the importance of giving yourself a time cushion to make sure you can always meet or exceed expectations. Things always take longer than expected.
Don’t put yourself in a position of having to scramble to make a deadline because you didn’t foresee obstacles or roadblocks.
Regardless of how long a project will take, once you’ve agreed to a delivery date, you have to meet it. It’s much worse to blow deadline than to promise a deliverable in 10 days, even if you know it will only take one day. If you deliver ahead of schedule you look like a rock star.
Giving yourself a proper time cushion is the productivity hack that will ensure delighted stakeholders every time.
The difference between reasonable expectations and low expectations
Setting low expectations is cheating. You do yourself a disservice when you set the bar so low you could reach your goals in your sleep. In some situations this might be necessary, but if you consistently set low expectations for yourself and others, you’re cheating yourself out of a chance to grow.
I remember turning in a particular project faster and better than my boss expected, and she said, “I didn’t think you were going to be able to do this.” It wasn’t a compliment. It stung. I had just stepped over a low bar. Don’t let this happen to you.
Managing expectations based on past success
If you’ve ever read an investment prospectus you’ve probably seen the disclaimer that says something along the lines of, “Past success is not a guarantee of future returns.” No one knows which way the market will head. We use what we know about the past to manage future risk, but it’s imprecise.
Every situation and every client relationship is different. By dwelling too much in the past, and by resting on your laurels, you open the door to disappointment when you don’t hit benchmarks for a unique scenary. You can’t go back in time to create the situations that conspired for stellar results, so why set yourself up for disappointment?
It’s best to guarantee process and transparency instead. Here’s how we delivered client success in the past, and it’s how we’ll work with you, too. Nothing is ever a guarantee, but past performance give you a sense of what you can expect in the future.
Managing one’s own expectations is hardest
I struggle with setting reasonable expectations for myself. I’m hyper-ambitious and I want what I do to stand out. I’m sure most entrepreneurs feel this way.
I know what I’m capable of. I know what I’ve created and what I have achieved in the past. Shouldn’t these accomplishments be my calling card? No.
These are competencies and achievements, but they’re not a guarantee.
Why managing one’s own expectations is so hard
The problem with managing one’s own expectations is that we want to be super-human when we’re not. Well, maybe you are.
I want to please. More than that, I want clients who are dazzled.
Your reputation is built on what you deliver, not what you promise. We’ve all got more time than we think. Entrepreneurship is fueled by fear, urgency and constant deadlines, but it’s still a marathon. Relationships form over time, and they have to be constantly nurtured.
While I strive to have a reputation for innovative thinking and creativity, I should be happy as long as people know me as someone who keeps his word, and delivers on time. This is how business gets done, and it’s what people really want.
How to under promise and over deliver with yourself
Treat yourself like a client, and you’ll start to do everything differently–and hopefully better. It’s another hard, yet important thing to do.
One way to do this is to under promise and over deliver with yourself. Perhaps most important is giving yourself enough time to hit your projected targets.
I was at an event recently about work/life balance where one of the participants said you should rack up small wins at the end of the night/workday so you can go to bed with a feeling of accomplishment. None of these wins have to be seismic to be meaningful.
Setting achievable goals for yourself, and then over-delivering is probably the best way to consistently feel like a rockstar. And once you start getting comfortable, make sure to keep moving the goalposts so you continue to grow.
As an entrepreneur your work is never done, so it’s important to celebrate small victories.
A final word
It’s tricky to set reasonable expectations when dealing with clients and customers. It’s harder still to set reasonable expectations by which to live.
No one cares if you say you’re amazing at what you do, and you are. Congratulations. You’ve just matched expectations and you’re not a liar. But If you set the bar too high, then you’ll never be able to hit the marks you’ve set, and everything you deliver will be a disappointment, regardless of merit. Expectation management is about promising competence and delivering excellence.
I say all this as a student, of course. I’m struggle with all of the issues outline above, and need to learn how to set reasonable, human expectations while working with and around such sharpshooters.
To convert paying customers into raving fans, don’t promise the stars, pledege Kilamanjaro and deliver Everest.
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