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Bringing the House Down

Optimize Blog - December 11, 2012 - 0 comments

You may have seen an interesting news item recently about an imposing 18th Century French Chateau being bulldozed ‘by mistake’…
If, like the villagers of Yvrac in the Bordeaux region of France, you are wondering how anyone could possibly demolish a 140,000 square foot mansion ‘by mistake’, according to the local mayor’s office workers who were hired to renovate the grand manor and raze a small building on the same estate in southwest France got the two buildings mixed up.
Local media reported that the construction company misunderstood the renovation plans of the current owner, Russian businessman Dmitry Stroskin, to restore it to its former baroque glory.
Mr Stroskin was away when the ‘issue’ occurred and returned home to discover that his chateau, a local treasure boasting a grand hall that could host some 200 people, as well as a sweeping stone staircase, was nothing but a pile of rubble.
Leaving aside any cynicism we may have over the cause of this particular ‘misunderstanding’, the reality is that we frequently see metaphorical piles of rubble appearing throughout businesses.  Whenever leaders are ambiguous in their communication or have simply not been specific enough, painfully expensive mistakes tend to follow.  That’s why all of our leadership development programs reinforce the fact that under-estimating just how specific they need to be with their expectations of others, is one of the biggest issues for leaders today.
Just because the leader knows what he or she expects doesn’t mean that the same message has been communicated properly to the receiver of the message.  Transference of  understanding does not happen by osmosis or mind-reading.  Expectations need to be communicated clearly and explicitly.
When someone has to interpret a message or expectation,  they do so from their own perspective and the message is therefore filtered or adjusted to reflect to their preconceptions and expectations rather than those of the person sending the message.  When working in an effective team for many years, a better understanding can start to form but for most of us our teams are constantly changing and so we don’t have the luxury of mature groups who are able to translate snippets of information into meaningful action.
As Peter Drucker once said, there is nothing as disappointing as doing something really well when the thing didn’t need doing in the first place.  Poor expectations exchange creates waste, errors and re-work – those metaphorical piles of corporate rubble… Conflicts, disagreements, disputes, and litigation are often born out of expectation gaps.
Understanding how to come out on the right-side of the expectation curve can often be the difference between being viewed as an average leader and a great one.  Aligning expectations is, after all, a fundamental role of leadership.
All leaders at some point find themselves in a position of having assigned some work only to end-up with the deliverable falling far short of expectations, while having the producer of the work sincerely believing that they have exceeded all expectations.
Leaders who fail to clearly communicate their expectations have no right to them. The science of aligning expectations is about systematically connecting what is said with what is done. The art of aligning expectations is about eliminating the expectation gap.
Only by mastering this skill will the leader truly become effective. An effective communication and alignment of expectations in Yvrac would have ensured that the Chateau was still standing today.  Unless, of course, Mr. Stroskin communicated his expectations very effectively and got exactly what he wanted.

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