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Problems and solutions for managing people's expectations during proposals

8 reasons for expectation conflicts and 9 things you can do to improve expectation management

People bring their expectations to work with them. People form expectations while at work. Expectations run in every direction, between every stakeholder. Humans generally do a poor job of communicating them, and an arguably worse job of fulfilling them. It is a wonder that anything ever gets done. We can do better. 

What if expectations were communicated more clearly? And accepted? What could we accomplish if we fulfilled all of our expectations for each other? What stands in the way of this?

Problems with managing expectations

The biggest thing standing in the way of expectation fulfillment is that our expectations clash. A missed assignment deadline is a common form of conflicting expectations. Conflicting expectations during proposals come about in various ways:

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Successful process implementation
  • Sometimes one person’s expectation is not accepted by another. Sometimes this is communicated, and sometimes it is held back. 
  • New expectations form, often the result of competing priorities, after an expectation is set.
  • The person with the expectation does not realize that the people they expect things from have expectations of their own.
  • Each new stakeholder with a new set of expectations further complicates the dynamic.
  • Some people’s expectations count more than others.
  • Sometimes an expectation is not valid. We want things we cannot have. Or we ask for the wrong things.
  • Potential issues with expectations are not anticipated and prevented or mitigated.
  • Expectations are interpreted differently than intended.

And we thought it was going to be simple.

What you can do about it

Here’s a little advice that can have a big impact:

  • Instead of defining your expectations, start by fulfilling the expectations of your stakeholders. This will make it far more likely that they’ll be able to fulfill your expectations. It also requires you to understand your stakeholders' expectations, which is rather important.
  • Define the scope. You don’t need to also address expectations that are set by corporate or human resource policies. You can’t possibly address the entire universe of expectations. Quality methodologies don’t give up on trying to achieve quality because we can’t actually define it universally in a way that is useful. Instead we define a scope in which we can define quality and focus on that. You need to do the same thing with expectations.
  • Instead of articulating your expectations as what people should do, articulate them as goals to be accomplished. This is the difference between discussing needs and micromanaging.
  • Try focusing on what has to happen. Minimalism rules. Especially when it comes to expecting things from other people. What expectations must be fulfilled for what has to happen to be achieved? Only then should you try to deal with expectations related to the options, considerations, and contingencies. This also helps to de-personalize expectations.
  • Separate what you expect from how you expect it to be fulfilled. Do you need both expectations fulfilled? Can you leave it up to them how to accomplish the goals? Or make suggestions instead of mandates? 
  • Balance every expectation you have against every possible expectation the people you depend on might have. Other people’s expectations are the most common reason your proposal expectations aren’t getting fulfilled.
  • Remember the difference between expectations and rules or mandates. You’re not trying to codify compliance backed by threats of enforcement. You’re trying to make sure that everybody is on the same page regarding how you’d all like things to go so that you can work together to accomplish great things. Rules deal with differences in interpretation by adding more rules. This gets in the way of expectation fulfillment.
  • Remove room for interpretation. This is not about closing loopholes. It’s about achieving clarity and simplicity so that people can understand each other without conflict.
  • Surface differences in expectations as quickly as possible. You want to know about them because if you leave them unaddressed, they are more likely to result in expectations being unfulfilled in a way that jeopardizes overall success. And the sooner you find out about the differences, the more likely you are to be able to reframe them in a way that provides a path to a successful outcome. 

Improving your management of expectations will not only improve efficiency and the proposal experience. It will also increase trust. When people know what others expect and can count on each other to fulfill those expectations they begin to trust each other. And when people don’t understand each other’s expectations or how to fulfill them, distrust can seep in. It is so much easier when change does occur or a chaotic element rears its ugly head to overcome the challenge when you are working with people you trust. And as a bonus, when people understand each other’s expectations, changes are less frequent and the way to resolve them is often readily apparent.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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