Time to update your old school expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately and how much they impact our lives. Expectations are a funny thing. They’re rarely front and center in our daily thoughts, but lingering in the subconscious – like an invisible hand guiding our paths (1).

What hit me this morning is expectations can last a really long time… a lifetime if you may.

If parents ensure their child’s chores are completed, the expectation to complete tasks is instilled at a young age. Alternatively if parents set few rules and their children run amok (2), following expectations set outside the home such as appropriate classroom behavior (or later, laws) may be a struggle.

Both positive and negative expectations are likely to follow a child for many years and surely impact a person’s future.

What are expectations

What I’ve now come to realize is someone’s personality and their perceived expectations have a close relationship. Both guide what makes us tick. And both of course impact the way we behave.

It’s interesting to consider that expectations are typically:

A) Set by someone else
B) Undefined
…and because of these
C) Rarely challenged

I didn’t realize until making this list how much influence the expectations of others have on us from an early age. I’m also slightly concerned that I haven’t taken time to define these early expectations, or considered they may need challenging.

Defining expectations

I’ll refrain from sharing an enormous master list of the expectations placed on me since birth, although I do think this would be an interesting exercise. Simply creating an expectations list would surely lend a better understanding of my actions and personality.

I would however like to think more deeply about a few categories of expectations surrounding the work environment:

Employment – most roles start with a bulleted list of activities or results an employee is expected to achieve. V2.0 is setting quarterly KPIs, and V3.0 is OKRs (3). These role activity bullets and associated metrics are typically the extent of employer expectation setting. But aren’t they missing something? What if both an employee and employer specifically listed all expectations they had for each other? I’d guess half of each list would be previously unknown to the other party (4).

Partnerships – In my experience most partnerships fail to deliver the expected outcomes, even though partnership outcomes and KPIs are typically discussed early in the relationship. Maybe what’s missing is an honest discussion about each party’s expectations? I’d guess the outcome of both partners listing their expectations would have the same result of employees doing so – many revealed that were previously unknown.

Rethinking expectations

The core concept that’s still rolling around in my head is that a person’s perceived expectations rarely change. They’re the 500 lb gorilla we’re burdened with carrying, even if the expectation is no longer valid.

Take my wife for example. She was raised in a loving household that expected her to look out for the happiness of others. This upbringing won her the ‘nicest person award’ of our senior class, and to this day she’s a ‘peace-maker’ with an extremely high EQ (5). Probably the best upbringing someone could ask for, resulting in a person who I (and almost everyone she meets) love to be around.

But in some situations it’s not possible to make everyone happy – for example during negotiations or when making tough decisions I’ve seen her and many others struggle to balance the early expectation of delivering happiness when aligning multiple parties around a single outcome. This can weigh on someone and even diminish their own happiness.

There are many similar examples where I hypothesise an expectation is A) set by someone else, B) undefined in a person’s subconscious, and as a result C) the expectation remains unchallenged

Challenge expectations

I could imagine the below 4 steps as a method to consider the difficulties we face and expectations placed upon us:

1) List the past expectations correlated with a difficulty
2) List the reasoning you or someone else used to create the expectation
3) Consider when the expectation was set and how applicable it is to your current life
4) If the initial expectation circumstances have changed, challenge and realign

I’m guessing initially most expectations have some validity, yet over time our situation changes while our behavior remains static. This leaves a need to realign the expectations placed on us (both internally and externally) on a frequent basis.

So what have I discovered? Nothing I didn’t already know 🙂 Circumstances change, and setting aside time to step back and ‘take stock’ is an important aspect of learning and growing as a person.

Remember to stay lean and always challenge the status quo.

(1) Similar to the invisible hand in economics, which describes the self regulating behavior of a marketplace

(2) Yep, I’m pulling out British slang on your ass – don’t run amok!

(3) Ah yes, the new best practice of OKRs – originally created by John Doerr for Google that has taken the tech world by storm. Not familiar? This video is worth watching

(4) It’s worth testing this assumption – I’ll likely make this list with one of my employees next week and report back on how it goes

(5) Emotional intelligence



About Andy Shannon

Hi, I'm Andy and this is my blog, hope you enjoy. Feel free to get in touch anytime via Twitter or Linkedin