I'm a student of human behavior and a dabbler in the art
of managing expectations. It was not part of my master plan to become either the
student or the dabbler. In fact, I was destined for greatness in the field of
mathematics, and would, I'm sure, have achieved that greatness, were it not for
day one of my class in linear algebra as a college freshman.
perched on a platform where she towered over a sea of mathematician wannabes,
stood the most terrifying woman I had ever seen. She looked tough, and sounded
even tougher. She was wearing high-heeled boots, and I, a member of the sneaker
set, found this image frightening. In one of those memorable moments that shapes
lives, I listened to this woman bellow at us, "If you don't learn the eighteen-step
proof that A times one equals A, don't expect to pass this course!"
That, although I didn't know it at the time, was the beginning of my interest
in the subject of expectations.
It was also the end of my not-yet-budding
career in mathematics. I was into efficiency, and eighteen steps to prove A times
one equals A was seventeen too many. A times one did equal A. What else could
I switched my major to psychology. I learned about motivation,
learning theory, patterns of reinforcement, expectations . . . . Well, there wasn't
really a course in expectations, but that's what many of the courses were about,
as I realize in looking back.
After getting a couple of degrees in psychology,
I switched focus again and became a programmer. That wasn't part of my master
plan either, but my husband, Howard, was a programmer, and he and his techie friends
spoke a language I couldn't understand. It was full of buzzwords, jargon, acronyms.
I couldn't stand not understanding that language, and decided to become a programmer
just for a short while, until I learned some jargon.
To my great surprise,
I got hooked. I discovered I loved programming. I loved debugging. I loved the
buzzwords, the jargon, and the acronyms. And I loved working with our internal
customers. Well, most of them, anyway. And even then, not all day every day. They
all seemed to have so many expectations. Occasionally, I found myself thinking,
If it weren't for the customers, this job could be fun.
I rose through
several technical and customer support positions, and suddenly one day I was an
information systems manager. This, too, was not part of my master plan, but there
was a reorganization, and the next thing I knew, I was a manager. And before I
could adjust my new chair so that my feet could reach the floor, customers started
calling, wanting to know where their output was. They didn't care that I had just
started as manager an hour earlier, and they didn't want to hear that the system
had crashed, and that we were scrambling to figure out why. All they knew was
their output was due at eight o'clock, and it was now nine o'clock. From that
moment on, almost every problem I experienced, witnessed, or heard about revolved
in some way or other around expectations.
I've now spent more than a decade
as a speaker, seminar leader, and consultant, and I've listened to countless stories
information systems professionals have told me about their customers' misguided
or hard-to-manage expectations. However, what has become apparent from these stories
is that only rarely do these people see themselves as responsible for the problems
they face. Instead, in the vast majority of experiences, information systems personnel
fault their customers for having unreasonable or unrealistic expectations.
Ironically, as I've listened to information systems customers describe their experiences,
it has become apparent that systems professionals often have expectations of their
customers that are just as unreasonable. In fact, it's intriguing how often systems
professionals and customers accuse each other of exactly the same faults: withholding
information, not listening, making false assumptions, and failing to understand
My conclusion is that if each party sees the other as
the problem, then the problem must belong to both. It is probable that we service
providers bear responsibility for some of our customers' expectations. We may
have done things, or failed to do things, that led our customers to have the expectations
they have. And what about all those situations in which expectations on both sides
have been perfectly reasonable, but different -- only we didn't realize it until
it was too late, because we mistakenly believed we understood each other, were
talking the same language, and were striving for the same goals?
all the factors that make customer/provider relationships difficult, such interactions
should be win-win relationships, and can be if expectations are clarified early
on. It is my hope that this book will help you gain a better understanding of
the role expectations play in your relationships with those you serve, support,
or interact with in the course of your work.
I hope it meets your expectations.
|November 1993 || |
|Randolph, Massachusetts|| |