A Coaching Power Tool Created by Lisa Diaz
(Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES)
The expectation is defined as a belief that someone will or should achieve something. Expectations have been a part of our lives from a very young age. At two there was an expectation that you will not take the dirt out of the potted plant and throw it on the floor. At fifteen there was the expectation that you would keep your room clean. Expectations follow us through life; they give us clarity and provide parameters from which to work.
As a parent, I did not want my kids to fall short of my expectations. My carpet also wanted my two-year-old to keep the dirt in the plant and not on the floor. My husband desperately wanted our fifteen-year-old to keep his room clean. I can’t lie and tell you we had perfect kids that consistently met all of our expectations and that there was never plant dirt on the floor, or a messy room. Falling short of expectations happens. How we respond to a missed expectation is the real test.
Accommodation is defined as the providing of what is needed. Accommodation like expectations has been a part of most of our lives since a very young age. Take my fifteen-year-old and his messy room for example. I wanted him to succeed. So, we brainstormed different ideas that might aid in his success; Maybe a new clothing organizer? What about a fun basketball hamper? Perhaps a shoe organizer? The thought was if we could provide him with some accommodations to support his ability to keep his room clean then maybe he would succeed. The result was a cleaner room for a few days, but then back to a mess. He was falling short of the expectation and the accommodations to support him were not working. Frustration in my household was growing.
This same situation happens in the workplace all the time. There are expectations, and there are challenges in meeting expectations. Most leaders want to support their team members needs in meeting or even exceeding expectations. They, as I did with my fifteen-year-old, often ask how they can help. The goal is to provide accommodations to support achieving expectations. However, what happens when expectations go unmet? Do we lower the expectations?
At our house, the fifteen-year-old was struggling to keep his room clean but his brothers who are twelve and nine years old were doing a great job. If we were to lower expectations and maybe not require a clean room every day but perhaps just on Fridays, what would happen with our other two children? In the workplace, if we lower the expectation for one because they are falling short, how will it affect the rest of your team? As you can guess when we lower expectations we impact so much more than the one person we are trying to help.
Expectations and accommodations are important to most individual’s overall success. However, if accommodations take the place of holding to expectations the result will not be a success, in fact, it will typically lead to lower levels of achievement overall. Both expectation and accommodations are critical in creating a thriving culture, however, they have to be connected not used in place of in order to maximize success.
Self-Application Case Study
Sara leads a team of go-getters. Over the past five years that she has led this team, they have always amazed her with the goals they’ve set and milestones they’ve achieved. Yet recently, Tom, a veteran member of her team, seemed to be falling behind. Tom was missing deadlines, leaving work early, and not contributing much in team meetings. Sara had several conversations with Tom, but his behaviour had continued.
About six months into Tom’s “slowdown” other team members started coming to Sara frustrated with the situation and wondering why nothing was being done. Sara assured her team that she was taking action. She had gathered from Tom that he was feeling bored and lacking motivation. They had discussed what might help Tom re-engage in work and, from this discussion, Sara had managed to re-work his schedule and workload to get Tom a seat on a new product development team he was interested in joining.
Another three weeks went by and, though Sara had put the accommodation in place for Tom, he was still missing deadlines and not contributing much to the team. It was also clear that the rest of the team was being impacted. Sara saw team members who usually would stay late until the task was complete leaving early as Tom had done for the past six months. She saw project timelines falling behind schedule.
Sara again met with Tom and again they explored ways to help re-engage him. Accommodations were made again, however, the behaviour did not change and Tom was not consistently held to the expectations. Sara felt she was doing everything to help Tom, including looking the other way when he left early, and she had given him a pass in attending the team debrief sessions because he was not providing any value anyway. In fact, many of the members of her team were not providing the kind of value they had at one time. Her team had gone from a team of go-getters to paycheck-getters.
In reflection, Sara came to realize where things had gone wrong. She recognized that caring about Tom’s needs was essential and she did that well. Making accommodations to his work schedule and load to allow him time to engage in some new initiates was important. However, lowering the overall expectations she had for Tom, in the end, made Tom and her entire team ineffective.
Setting clear expectations is critical to a coaching relationship. Often this is done during the contracting phase before coaching has officially begun. Your expectations might be focused on showing up on time or that your client will come ready with the topic they wish to discuss. Regardless of the expectations you have with clients, it is essential that expectations are clearly understood and held.
As coaches, we want to support our client in personal growth but if we lower our expectations for the client, the result will not equal growth. The drive to support our client is positive and if used correctly can even elevate the client’s growth, but we must be careful that we are not enabling but empowering clients.
To empower, we must dig deeper into understanding what is standing in the way of successfully meeting the expectation. We can not ignore the missed expectation. We can not own identifying what accommodations might support them in meeting the expectations. We must probe to determine the root cause and then support the client in exploring possible accommodations that could be made to help them succeed.
Practical Application: Tool to Support Expectation Setting
Often we think we are crystal clear when setting expectations. In fact, we are shocked when someone falls short and then expresses their misunderstanding of the expectations. Unclear expectations can be at the root of many frustrations on both sides of the issue.
The following are four steps to setting expectations:
- Set the Expectation: Verbally state the expectation(s).
- Clarify the Expectation: To ensure a shared understanding, clarify the expectation. This can be done by asking: “So putting this expectation on a situation next week, what does it look like?” or “Share with me a scenario and how you will live up to this expectation.” The idea is to put this expectation into action. This provides an opportunity for continued dialogue to clarify the expectation.
- Remove Road Blocks: Our best intentions can be sidetracked when a roadblock gets in the way. We understand the expectation, and we want to live up to the expectation, however, an unforeseen situation arises and we fall short. Asking the question “What could get in the way of success?” creates the opportunity to troubleshoot these roadblocks that might arise. This can also help uncover some possible accommodations that need to be made in order to succeed.
- Follow-Up: When changing habits, we use grit. Grit is powerful; however often without continued “support” our grit can lessen, and we can fall back into old habits. This makes follow-up critical. The ownership of follow-up is not on the expectation giver, although it is their responsibility to be an active participant. Ask “What’s the plan to follow-up on the progress?” It is up to them to set the follow-up plan but make sure it is specific (date, time, etc.).