Posted tagged ‘expectations’

Speed Racer

November 10, 2011

My daughter ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon a few weeks back.  She finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which I believe is a respectable time to run 26 miles if you’re not from Kenya.  One of the things I learned from her preparations is that you have to have a “plan” for your race.  Her plan, apparently, was to use her heart rate to determine how fast to run each mile, striving to keep a relatively steady beats per minute, which may lead to less buildup of lactic acid or other ‘cramp inducers.’  Near as I can tell, she ran the first half of the race just slightly slower than the last half, but kept a pretty steady pace throughout.  Good for her!

I have decided, though, that if I ever run a marathon, I will take a vastly different and obviously superior approach.  I will jog the first 16 miles of the race and then sprint the last ten.   I am pretty confident I can beat her time by doing that.  I can jog 16 miles briskly in about 3 hours, and then sprint the last ten at ten miles per hour, in another 60 minutes, finishing in 4 hours.  Take that!


I was committed to this plan until a few friends asked some probing questions like, “Bob, have you ever sprinted ten miles?”    Brutally, they followed up with, “Have you ever sprinted even two miles?”  And then, the coup de grace, “Have you ever sprinted even one mile after jogging 16??”

At that point, I realized the flaw in my plan.  Trying to go faster at the end of a long race is no strategy for success especially if:

a) you’re out of shape or

b) you’ve never done it before

So why do so many project teams and project managers think they can get to the halfway point of a project in six months and then finish the other half in two??

It’s gotta be the lactic acid buildup…


Well, what did you expect??

February 10, 2011

I got hit in the face with missed expectations this week courtesy of American Airlines.   I was flying home from Colorado after a quick but really fun mini-ski trip.  But, as with most trips, at least the ones where it’s as cold there as it is in Michigan, I was ready to come home.  I expected to be home around 8 PM on Monday.  I actually arrived home on Tuesday at 2 PM.

Here’s the interesting thing about this:  I realize weather affects flights.  I realize there are FAA limits on how many hours a pilot and crew can fly.  And I realize that it is not necessarily the airline’s “fault” that I got home much later than I had hoped, and had to deal with the delay on my own, since there is little compensation or assistance that the airline provides other than re-booking you on the next available flight.


So what did they do “wrong” then?

I think they failed to set and then manage my expectations.  In fact, they did the opposite.  They told me my connecting flight was “on time” until an hour  before it was scheduled to leave.  Clearly that was not the case.  They told me I was booked on a later flight that day.  They had me wait at the airport for 5 hours, telling me the plane was on its way.  They never mentioned that there was a chance there wouldn’t be a crew.  They announced final cancellation due to a “lack of crew” at the last possible moment, after first saying they were looking for a new crew, as if pilots were lounging around O’Hare just hoping they got “picked” for an end of day jaunt to West Michigan.

But in reflecting on this, it seems that we as leaders all have a tendency to do the same.  How many times have you put off an uncomfortable conversation with an employee, a boss, or a client?  How many times have you promised that a project would go smoothly, ignoring the fact that there  is a roughly 100% chance that there will be “turbulence” along the way?  How many times have you set expectations too high and hoped that no one would compare those to outcomes?  And how many times were you shocked and defensive when someone called you on it and reminded you of what they were promised?

Well, what did you expect…?

Boris, Natasha and QA

November 30, 2010


Last month, the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Alexander Anderson Jr., passed away at the ripe old age of 90.  Definitely one of my favorite cartoons as a kid!  I remember, among other things, Boris Badenov, the villain, saying, “I send Lady Spy (aka Natasha) with package which is really bomb.  She gets caught, she throws bomb out window, who gets blown up?  Me!”

Setting aside the fact that those were simpler times, and that the TSA likely would have stripped-searched Natasha and found the explosives long before she could heave them out the window, I had a similar experience last week where I felt a bit like Boris.

I have been providing training to one of my client’s Trustees, an elite group of successful, influential and typically ‘senior’ folks who are going to begin to receive documents, view calendars and do other things on line in their new “board portal” that they had done by email, snail mail or telephone in the past.  Good idea!

Because of the sensitive nature of the materials on the portal (as you can imagine) I was not granted access to the “real” portal – just a training version with generic content.  As many of you savvy readers will conclude, I also was therefore not able to “test” the real portal myself and ensure it worked flawlessly before demonstrating it and educating these local titans of industry.  Not a problem, I was told!  The rather granular permissions model, access from outside through the firewall and the search feature were all thoroughly tested by the system administrator.  Excellent!  No worries!!

Wait for it…

That is correct!  When I went to the law offices of one of the trustees, and stood over him in his corner office while he first used the portal, the search feature found documents from another site ‘by accident’, it didn’t allow him to participate in discussions that it should have, and it even threw a lovely 404 error when he tried to access one of the documents that search ‘found’ for him.  I, of course, was left to “explain” these behaviors and assure him they’d be corrected (which they have been).

A cautionary tale:  If you’re doing something important and you leave the Quality Assurance to others with no means to verify it’s been done thoroughly, just remember that when the bomb gets thrown out the window, you’re the one standing under it…

I think I need an alignment

April 15, 2010

I am pretty confident that if any of us saw Osama Bin Laden walking down the street, we’d do our best to immediately drop everything we’re doing, and take him down.  No questions asked; no incentives needed.  And I also suspect that, at the hero’s receptions later, we’d say, as most real heroes do, that they didn’t do anything anyone else wouldn’t do if they found themselves in the same situation.  And yet, the reward right now for information leading to the capture of Osama is 25 million bucks and I understand the State Department is actually kicking around the idea of doubling it to fifty.  

I have been struggling for quite some time to reconcile the results of studies I often see that say employees are more motivated by recognition than they are by compensation.  I struggle with this because most employees that I talk to would really like to make more money, or at least have the opportunity to do so.

And I think many companies and their leadership must struggle with this as well, based on the compensation and recognition systems that they put in place.  In fact, I think a new term, “compognition” might be the best way to label their confused strategy.  Because they confuse intrinsic behaviors with the desire to make more money, and then make it worse by misaligning the rewards.


Imagine this:

  • a company or manager notices someone working extra hours to learn a new technology or skill.  The company does not make any more money, at least in the short run, from this intrinsically good behavior that the manager not only wishes to reward, but wishes others would emulate.  So she decides to give the employee a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy, which she leaves in his cubicle with a nice note.
  • a company or manager demands that a team work overtime to meet a deadline.  The company stands to make a $25,000 incentive bonus if the project is delivered on time.  The team works really hard, including long hours and weekends.  They make the deadline.  The company throws them a pizza party and invites the rest of the department to it.
  • a company or manager institutes a new program to get their more senior employees to pursue new business.  They offer a 0.5% “commission” to these selected employees, who did not volunteer for the role; they were just told that this was part of their responsibilities.  One of the employees manages, through her network, to close a $150,000 deal.  She receives a check for $750.00.

In all three cases, I would suggest there is serious misalignment between compensation and recognition.  In the first example, although a nice gesture, I think a more public recognition of the efforts, quite possibly with no monetary reward, would be far more appropriate.  Praise in public, criticize in private.  And don’t attach a dollar value to intrinsic behavior.

In the second and third examples, the reverse is true.  The employees are well aware, in both cases, of the value of their efforts to the company.  If you, as a manager, cannot find an effective way to share that additional revenue with the team or employee primarily responsible for that financial gain, you assign little or no value to something that is not intrinsic behavior.   Congrats – you are officially well on your way to a de-motivated and resentful staff.

Anyone got any “compognition” stories they’d like to share?

Get Smart!

March 29, 2010

Quite a few years ago, I was working with the Vice President of Power Stations at an electric utility back east. I was building a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for our first efforts at doing some “business intelligence” reporting. Not surprisingly, one of the metrics was lost-time accidents at the power stations.  Something we all took very seriously. And for good reason!  From my previous experience working at power stations, I knew that workers do get hurt from time to time. It’s dangerous work.


So I asked the VP what the “goal” should be for lost time accidents. I figured maybe 3 or 4 per year seemed about right. And he looked at me kinda funny and said, “there’s only one answer – zero – that’s the goal.” And I realized in that instant that he was right. Of course the goal should be zero! How many people are you going to set out to hurt in a year???

That got me thinking about SMART goals and what that really means. SMART, as you probably know, stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. We rarely, if ever, had a year with no lost time accidents at our power stations. Was that goal of zero really attainable??

Similarly, most NFL teams make one of their most important goals, each season, to make the playoffs, if not go all the way to the Super Bowl. Yet of the thirty-two or so teams in the NFL, only two will reach the Super Bowl. Is that goal attainable?

I think, in both cases, the answer is yes. Attainable does not mean easy. Attainable does not mean you will reach your goal every year. Attainable means that if everyone does their absolute best and a few chips of good fortune come your way you might just reach that goal.

But there’s a more important question here for you, as a manager, and your team. What do NFL teams do if they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs three weeks before the end of the season? What should plant workers do if there’s a lost time accident? Give up? Stop doing their best to be safe just because they won’t make the goal of zero accidents??

They say that NFL teams that are eliminated from playoff contention are “playing for pride.” Not all of them do, though. And you can pretty much tell which ones are and which ones aren’t, too.

So when you set goals for your company, department or team, there are two questions you should ask yourself:

  • · Is each goal “lofty” enough to motivate your team to do their best every day?
  • · If you miss a goal, does your team really still play for pride??

If your answer to both those questions is yes, you’re pretty smart…


December 18, 2009

There was a great commercial a while back (I am sure it was for $150 basketball shoes) that talked about a red-hot basketball shooter who was making every shot he took, far from the basket.  You know, the hardest shots.  And the commercial said that the fans starting yelling “Layup!” when he shot the ball from 35 feet away.  That’s hot.  And the implication of the chant, of course, was that he was shooting so well that even 35 foot jumpers were as likely to go in as the easiest shot in basketball, a layup.  That’s where you’re running toward the basket and let the ball roll off your fingertips right next to the basket.  Good basketball players almost never miss a layup.

That got me thinking about the easiest shot in a company – the corporate equivalent of a layup.  I think it’s blame.

If you’re a manager or even a “worker bee” in a large, bureaucratic company, maybe even one where people are secretly hoping you might fail [wait, that happens??], and you have a choice between the real challenge of trying to accomplish strategic goals that might attach words like accountability to your reputation or blaming others for the fact that you can’t seem to get anything done, which would you choose?  Too often it seems employees and managers are choosing the layup.    It could be all around you.  You hear phrases like,

  • I’m just laying low and doing my job
  • As long as I don’t screw up, I should be able to last here for a few more years
  • When that project goes south, I don’t want to get blamed

I understand the very real risks these days of losing a job because you became a scapegoat for a failed initiative or because you “made waves.”  But do you really want to jump out of bed each morning and head to the office, fired up about laying low and hoping that when the blame starts flying, you’ve got your best teflon suit on?  Or maybe even slinging some blame yourself?

I get it.  It’s easy.   But if you lose your job for other reasons, like a downturn in the economy [wait, that happens???] and the best thing you can think of to put on your resume is, “I never got blamed for anything” you and your ‘references’ might be working harder than ever, without a paycheck, to convince a new prospective employer that you can add real value.  That’s no layup…


How much would YOU pay??

June 25, 2009

I went to my car mechanic the other day.  I said, “Fritz, my car isn’t running right.  I am not sure what the problem is.  Can you fix it for $400?”   Fritz said, “I’m not sure – mind if I take a look at it, run some diagnostics and see what the problem might be?”  I immediately suspected Fritz would use the diagnostics not to hone in on the problem, but to justify charging me more money.”  “No way,” I said, “you either guarantee me that you can fix it for $400 no matter what the problem is, or I am going to another mechanic.” 

You can only imagine what Fritz reaction might have been.  It’s extremely likely that he would have said that he couldn’t help me without being sure of what the problem is and what the likely cost of parts and labor might be to get it running smooth again.  Or MAYBE, if he was really desperate for some cash, he might take the gamble that he could fix it for less than $400 and pocket the rest as pure profit.  But I seriously doubt it…

And isn’t that what we, in the consulting business, do every time we bid on a fixed price project without the proper time, insight, and validation for what the scope of the project is??  I am not against fixed price contracting any more than I am against a car mechanic taking my tires and brake shoes off and then telling me I need new rotors, that it’ll be $300, and when I go to pick the car up, it’s exactly $300.  But I am vehemently against being so desperate for revenue, any kind of revenue, that you will bid a fixed price on  a project based on a set of vague requirements and then spend the next 6 months either trying to nickel and dime every change order you can think of, argue about what’s in and out of scope and/or hope that you can claim you’re “done” before you find yourself wildly upside down on your P&L.

Next chapter, coming soon to a blog post near you…  What to do instead…