Managing Expectations: The Difference Between Success or Failure
I love to say “YES.” It’s more than just the salesman in me who wants to promise the moon in order to get the deal. I thrive on the challenge to help someone accomplish a goal or seize an opportunity. I specially love tell “yes” to my ministry clients on projects that I know will make a difference in people’s lives. But behind every “yes” there are moving parts, deadlines, budgets and deliverables that most often are beyond my control. I’ve struggled over the years to balance my can-d0 attitude with the realities of resources and realistic time lines. But over the years in business I have come to believe while my clients appreciate my willingness to understand and even share in their sense of urgency, they appreciate even more my honesty on what can realistic be done. Managing expectations has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn, but it has been one the most important
Early on in my business career, I was often quick to promise solutions to my clients without much thought on how to deliver them. Sometimes it worked, often it backfired. I was constantly putting my team at a disadvantage because of the unrealistic expectations I had setup with clients. Honestly, I haven’t changed. I still want to say “yes” to every request, but here’s some safeguards I have put in place in order to manage expectations:
Know what you know. I usually get in trouble when I find myself in a space I don’t have any expertise in. The variables I know I can speak confidently about, but when I make the mistake of promising something outside my comfort zone, I’m in for trouble. Take our first iPhone App, for example. I charged the client 8 times less than it cost us to develop it.
Build in safeguards. No matter how excited I am about a project, I can no longer agree on a deliver date. It’s a formal agreement I have with our Vice President of Client Services, Diana Marsh. I even believe is part of her employment contract that I will not set any deadlines. This action alone has saved my company a lot of grief. Diana’s job is to manage all of our teams and project deliverables and she’s a pro at it.
Stand your ground. Sometimes an over-eager potential client will push back and want to manage or even dictate every aspect of a project. I have regretted every single time I’ve given in to demands I knew were unreasonable for the sake of business. Unreasonable people are like spoiled, undisciplined children who, no matter what you give them, always want more from you and are never satisfied or grateful. If they’re not willing to work with you on the front end, then you’re in for a tough time for the remainder of the relationship. If you blindly give in, you’ll lose the project, the relationship and the money. There are no winners here.
The bigger the stakes the bigger the trust. Our best projects and products have been forged during the mutual exchange between our clients and our team. Without mutual trust and honest exchange, projects take an ugly turn where stakeholders watch out for miscues and mistakes. But when you let them know from the beginning that this is “collaborative effort” and that “we’re together in this” grace abounds and instead of blame, people focus on solution. This never happens without trust.