Setting expectations – Part 2

This post is a continuation of an earlier post which put forth the following concept:

Setting expectations correctly is far more important than the actual work that you do.

The actual setting of management expectations and the strategy you employ depends upon which of these situations you are now in:

Situation 1 – You and your manager are generally in good communication. He responds favorably to some of your suggestions.

Situation 2 – You are afraid of your manager. He manages by instilling fear in his subordinates. You find it extremely difficult to make suggestions to him. He gives orders and expects compliance, not questions. He deals in threats, both overt and covert.

Situation 3 – Your manager is afraid of you. This is difficult to believe because he will usually hide this fairly well. This is the manager who rarely gives you instructions in writing. He will not tell you if there are problems with your work until he has enough data to get you fired. He will show signs of nervousness when you raise questions and will avoid talking to you if possible. When you cannot get feedback on how you are doing, be very, very careful. Your manager may be terrified that you will show him up by inadvertently exposing his lack of ability to the company at large.

So, which strategy should you use?

Situation 1 – good manager

This is a no-brainer. Make the best case you can based upon the data you have. Hedge any estimate by showing what information is not available and make that a conditional target for adjusting expectations as necessary.

This manager may have already determined what his expectations are and may have communicated them to you clearly and understandably. You still have to manage his expectations so they make sense to you and can be achieved in an agreed-upon time and budget. Expectations have to be mutual for results to have any meaning.

You can set expectations for this manager by couching your estimates in real terms. “Depending on the results of the surveys, this project could take between eight and twenty months. We should know when the survey results are analyzed. Let us make the first major milestone, acquisition of usable survey data for this market.”

If he is a good manager, he will challenge your assumptions until you have presented a case that he understands.

Situation 2 – you are afraid of your manager

This, unfortunately is far too typical. You already know what your manager is likely to say. You will be made wrong for your suggestions and you will be made wrong no matter how the project comes out.

If you have the utter temerity to suggest that you deserve acknowledgement for pulling off a miracle, this manager will snort derisively and say, “Why should you expect praise for doing your job? That’s what I expect you to do!”

I would like to refresh your memory with this excerpt from my earlier post:

Setting management expectations takes more courage than it does to come up with a revolutionary new design. Perhaps that’s why technical people often go out on a limb and agree to unrealistic deadlines. What happens as a result is they get shot later instead of immediately.

You will get summarily fired by this manager no matter what you do. It will happen sooner if you defy him, but it will happen eventually even if you swallow your pride and attempt to curry favor. This manager always lays the blame on someone else. He is never wrong in his eyes.

His management style almost guarantees frequent failures and he will always need a scapegoat. If you work for him, you are wearing a sign that says, “Kick me. I’m ready to be a scapegoat!”

You are caught between a rock and a hard place. I can only suggest that you do what your conscience demands. Steel yourself to set expectations as accurately as you can and defend your figures with all of your determination. Do not expect approval or praise even if you come out on top.

Your integrity is the most important attribute you have. If you act with integrity you will come out stronger, no matter what management does to you. In time, you will recognize situations like this one and avoid them. Just don’t take it personally when they fire you.

Start planning for your escape now.

Situation 3 – your manager is afraid of you

This is the toughest one of all and is far more common than you think. If you think you are in situation 1 but you cannot get commitment or backup, you may be in situation 3. Take a deep breath and prepare for a shock.

One little check before we go further: did this manager hire you himself? Or, were you hired by someone above him. A second check: when you first showed up for work, was this manager flustered and uncomfortable? A third check: does this manager try to avoid giving you reviews? If the answer to two or more of these was yes, you make your manager nervous. You are in deep trouble.

This is one of the most treacherous situations of all. You may feel that everything is great because you are accomplishing everything you set out to do. If you manager gives you half-hearted praise or spends all of his time dancing around possible issues, watch your back.

This type of manager is unable to push issues to his manager for resolution. If you run into an issue that require higher-level decisions, this manager will almost never take it to higher management for resolution. He would much rather you get burned trying to handle it.

You will set expectations for this manager and he will almost always agree, but not in writing. When you report results, he will seem to be in agreement, but you will not get concrete feedback.

Being the concientious citizen you are, you will probably make the mistake of doing what is necessary to get the job done, even without approval in writing. This is where you can hang yourself. If the expectations are not clearly written down, this manager can make your achievements meaningless.

Even if you keep records of your accomplishments and of the uptrends you are creating, it will be to no avail. This quivering sneak is biding his time and the only giveaway is that he may appear more and more nervous when you look at him directly.

He will let you run until you manage to violate one of the unwritten laws of the company, and then he will pounce. He will present carefully edited accounts of your transgressions and the HR people will look at you aghast. “We are sorry, but we have no option but to dismiss you. Your performance is unacceptable…”

Your only consolation is that this manager lives in constant fear of being discovered. The only thing worse than working for him is being him.

If you think you are in situation 3, find another department or organization and move into it as soon as possible. One last thing…let your new manager know that the “chemistry” just wasn’t right between you and this manager and that you would like your references to come from people you trust.

This type of manager will give poisonous recommendations to people who try to escape their fates. If you find that several opportunities seem to evaporate after a promising start, you should start investigating.

I have seen this type of manager make it impossible for employees to transfer within the company. That’s how afraid they are of you!

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