my life, and i suspect that it may be the same for many of you, has been a constant stream of expectations: sometimes they are met, sometimes they are not. when my expectations are met i feel a sense of fullness; when they are not i feel a sense of dissonance.

either way, i, as is human nature, approach almost all situations i face with a sense of expectation and a sense of longing to have those expectations met.

unfortunately it is not the times when those expectations are met or exceeded that dominate my sense of understanding of my past and my memories, but those times when my expectations were not met.

for example, i have seen hundreds of movies that i was pleasantly surprised or truly enjoyed, but it was one movie that fell miraculously short of my expectations that i remember. and, to this day, i give my wife a bad time for making me watch the “the talented mr. ripley.”

this seems to be even more true when it comes to our interpersonal relationship, especially those in our work situations. our work satisfaction and effectiveness is impacted by the expectations that are violated by those we work for, with, and work for us.

the problem is, it is in our nature to expect people to behave a certain way or to achieve certain things. this comes from our past experience, promises, and commitments. and yet i would guess that each of us can list dozens of instances when those expectations have been violated off the top of our head.

these instances of violated expectations can build up and taint our view of what we do and who we do it with. but what if we put expectations aside and focused on something different? a standard.

expectations are individualized – standards are objective

have you ever been in a situation when you felt the expectations on you were greater than on a peer? that feeling kind of sucks. expectations are by nature individualized, standards however are not centered around any one person. when we have a standard to strive for that is external to us it increasing community and can increase effectiveness.

expectations are intrinsic – standards are extrinsic

expectations have a habit of being very personalized. for instance i have very different expectations of my kids than a stranger would. that is because they are my expectations (and thus are mine to be violated). standards exist outside, if a standard is made known then it is not up to me to evaluate others based on my expectation, but based on the standard we are all striving towards.

expectations are arbitrary – standards are concrete

your expectations of others are based on your experience, desires, needs, and other very personal inputs. and to be honest, they generally are not fair to others. a standard, when expressed in easy to understand terms, is something that is easily understood by all. what would your organizational culture be like if everyone understood your operational standards and worked towards them together?

expectations are fleeting – standards are enduring

my expectation of my wife change from circumstance to circumstance. and so do your expectations of everyone around you. it is not fair to my wife, nor to anyone else to hold them accountable to those expectations when they change so fast there is no way i can articulate them. however, when we set a standard and point ourselves towards it, not life circumstance or situation changes that standard. it endures when circumstances do not.

just having a standard, however is not enough. it needs to be an appropriate standard for your organization, it needs to be clearly articulated, and it needs to be attainable. spend the time setting that standard, teaching your team about it, and embracing it as how you will evaluate individual and organizational effectiveness and you can radically change the atmosphere of any organization.


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