Managing Expectations – Avoiding the Dilbert Experience

Will Lukang, PMP, CSM, MBA, MASCL

Everyone at the workplace reports to someone. Even the CEO of the company is accountable to someone – the stakeholders. I’ve not met anyone in the workplace that does not answer to anyone. Therefore it is important to manage the expectations of the people you report to.

This reminds me of the Dilbert comic strip in which the pointy-haired boss told Dilbert that he could not give him the highest raise because he did not exceed his expectations. Dilbert countered that if pointy-haired boss knew he could achieve the goal, he would have set it a lot higher. This way Dilbert could not exceed his expectations. In the end, Dilbert surmised that either pointy-haired boss was incompetent at setting goals or he did achieve the highest goal, therefore he deserved the highest raise. At this point, the pointy-haired boss asked, “What are the choices again?” Is this all too familiar in our workplace? You work really hard throughout the year only to find out later that you did not met the expectation. To avoid this situation, you need to manage your manager’s expectation.

So, how do we manage expectations?

Step one: We need to set goals. In this step, you need to have a dialogue with your manager/ stakeholders and define the goals as well as the success criteria. The goals should follow the SMART rule. That means they should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time bound.

Step two: We need to monitor our progress and provide a status report as to how we are progressing. What are our challenges encountered? Do we need help in removing roadblocks? We need to document issues and provide a progress report. Progress report does mean a formal report, but a bullet-point list would do for stating the tasks or activities and describing the progress made to date.

Step three: Feedback discussion step provides you the opportunity to assess your situation and adjust accordingly. It also provides each party the opportunity to raise issues and address concerns in a timely manner. You must be committed to follow through and seek comments and suggestions. In order to be successful in managing expectations, you need to communicate and be willing to accept criticism, take the criticism, and create an actionable solution to address it.

By managing expectations throughout the year, we would know better where we stand. It is fair to say that having good managers/stakeholders is important. Sometimes bad managers can make managing expectations a challenge because they cannot make up their minds. Just like the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert. Please let me know what you think of this post.



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