Managing Expectations

Managing Expectations

By Clint McClure, President & CEO of MMI

Let's get real. We all want to have our expectations met - even exceeded - and achieved as quickly as possible. All humans desire this fulfillment of expectations to achieve results, including our clients and board members. Our job is to offer management expertise, the necessary strategy and detail required on each given topic. 

So how do we ensure that all parties understand what needs to be done and by when? And is that enough to ensure everyone's expectations are satisfied and hopefully exceeded?

The traditional business equation states that Strategy x Execution = Results. However Stephen M. R. Covey says, "While high trust cannot necessarily save a bad strategy, low trust will almost always derail an otherwise good strategy." At the end of the day, as managers, we are influencers, and the influence can only occur with those that trust our experience. Covey's Trust Quotient states: When Trust is high = Speed goes up and cost goes down. When trust is low = Speed goes down and cost goes up. Identifying elements that empower trust are vital to the true success of any relationship. 

A key element to empower trust is managing expectations and following through on the expectation completely. The single fastest way to break trust is to not fulfill an expectation. Therefore it is extremely important to confirm verbally and in writing what the expectation is and the exact time of delivery. Furthermore, should this set expectation change, it is imperative all parties are made aware of the change and the reasons it is necessary before the deadline set has lapsed. When this is done it shows we can walk the walk and talk the talk. Each time this is done completely, we not only build trust with our clients, but we build it intrinsically in ourselves. 

Good relationship management is not manipulation, but rather knowing how to work effectively with others to achieve the desired goal, in this case, a long-term mutually beneficial working relationship. I recommend you keep the “expectation score” proactively with your boards. Often understanding a board’s expectation is as simple as asking. 

Are you curious about what success looks like to your board? Have you asked them? Challenge yourself to conduct an organizational team building meeting where you ask your board the following questions:

  • What does success look like to you in the areas of each of your vendors i.e. management, landscaping, maintenance?
  • What values do you as a board believe are the most important for yourselves and your manager?
  • What are the board's goals to accomplish for the community every year for the next five years and ten years?
  • What is the community's definition of success?
  • What does that success look and feel like to the homeowners?

These are curious, beneficial questions, that when asked sincerely will provide an opportunity for positive energy-building conversation. Be prepared and ask for candid results. This is your opportunity to truly listen. Try to listen to the answers without thinking of your response. Take notes and make a plan on how you will now work with the board to make a strategic plan for implementation. If there is critical feedback or feedback that discusses past failures or shortfalls, wait to discuss your opinion until later. Fight the urge to become defensive. Instead, channel this energy into making a plan for future success. If there is an opportunity to own a mistake, DO IT. This will only help establish your honesty and credibility to yourself and your board. The more we can be internally and externally congruent as a leader, the more others will see they can do the same. The result will be diminished politics and disengagement within the group and increased collaboration and value.

This opportunity to ask questions and listen allows for all members to participate or at minimum have the opportunity to participate and be heard. This is a trust cultivating action and sets the organization up for developing a successful Strategy x Execution = Results equation. Should we as managers choose to accept it, we can be advocates for positive, meaningful discussion resulting in action for our boards. Once these questions are answered and a strategy established, break down the result deadlines into quarters and years. Conduct a check-in meeting once a year at minimum, preferably per quarter or bi-annually. This keeps the conversation and vision in the minds of the participants and reminds all that they are still working towards their desired goals. And if those goals have changed, it allows an opportunity for board members to voice changes or concerns. Manage to the contract as I have mentioned before. Celebrate the goals that have been met and give credit where credit is due, i.e. to board members, service providers and volunteers. This ability to provide ongoing feedback at a set time and place will minimize board burn-out and increase loyalty. This effort needs to be consistent, as each year you are working with a new board. 

Bring key service providers into this planning meeting. Allow them to understand expectations and to build these relationships proactively. Make sure the expectations of the service providers are solidified in writing or via contract modification. Ensure the service provider knows the vision and success modeling identified by the board and ask for solutions to stratify these goals. Set calendar check-in dates and metrics to monitor the success of these vision goals. Establish if and when there is an issue with the service in the eyes of the board or management and how the issues will be communicated to the service provider. This helps both the service provider and board know how and when to expect communication. 

Consider asking yourself what kind of behaviors your board and management culture promotes. Surround yourself and your team with positive behaviors and purge the negative influences promptly. Do all parties involved know what the vision is for the association, what success looks like for the community and for each service provider? Do board members candidly but kindly discuss concerns and work through them for a positive collaborative result? The more we focus on the positive development and management of expectations, the more we can achieve the desired results for all parties. Know where you stand and own your relationship with the board to hold all parties accountable for success. We are all in this together, so the question is do you know where you and your board want to go?

This article was previously published in CACM's Vision Magazine.

Covey, Stephen M. R., and Rebecca R. Merrill. The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. New York: Free Press, 2008.

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