Managing Expectations When Leading Change

Chapter 19 Leadership Lessons from West Point edited by Major Doug Crandall

363 – “In managing expectations, a change leader seeks out and build effective communication bridges between the leader and his or her stakeholders, while thoughtfully using those bridges to understand and help those stakeholders understand the realisms of the change process, while maintaining an overall positive perspective. Although managing expectations can significantly influence the success of one’s efforts to lead change, managing expectations is a complex process that takes a conscientious leader’s focus to succeed.”

363 – “…many organizational leaders must make the conscious choice to manage the expectations of their key stakeholders. This holds true for all levels of leadership during the change process.”

364 – “To determine the curriculum for the course ‘Winning the Peace’ with thoughtful due diligence, Schweiss surveyed returning commanders from US combat units deployed in the Middle East and asked them what topics should be included to prepare future second lieutenants to hit the ground running with the skills and thought processes needed to make immediate positive impacts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The colonels listed ‘expectation management‘ as one of their major themes.”

364 – “This chapter defines in detail what is required when managing expectations, and it offers nine lessons that leaders should keep in mind when trying to effect change in their organizations.”

365 – “Does the success of this leading change effort depend significantly on this person’s active support, participation, or approval either now or in the future? If the answer to that questions is yes, then that person most likely is one of your key stakeholders.”

366 – “Managing expectations effectively calls for the establishment of two-way communication, not just unidirectional influence.”

367 – “Managing expectations can be defined as consistently communicating with you key stakeholders to understand their spoken and unspoken expectations, while realistically shaping their perceptions of:

  • Your true character and intentions
  • The benefits of the long-term change process
  • What constitutes short-term success
  • Stakeholders’ specific responsibilities required to achieve the short-and long term outcomes

Managing expectations thoughtfully is a decisions that is made; it is not left to chance. Believing that stakeholders will have a realistic and positive view of the managing expectations perceptions without your deliberately helping them get there is preposterous and overly idealistic. A change leader has too many key stakeholders who may have too many diverging goals and internal influences to leave managing their expectations to chance.”

367 – “If you are leading change to serve rather than to manipulate, you had better prove it fast. The first aspect of effectively managing expectations is to realistically communicate your organization’s actual character intentions.”

368 – “Trust is the key to succeeding in this managing expectations perception, and it can be built only over time and with effort.”

368 – “Another essential factor when building trust is to study and respect the culture of stakeholders in order to be able to better listen to and understand them. By working to understand why stakeholders think what they do and practicing reflective listening with them, a change leader communicates that his or her stakeholders have important values and needs themselves. Although stakeholders will not always agree with a change agent’s course of action, if you take active steps to influence their positive trust for you by giving them access, context, and reflective listening, they will begin to understand and trust you and have a positive perception of your value and intentions.”

370 – “Managing expectations is a long-term process, but a change leader can influence those expectations only within the context of consistent short-term actions.”

372 – “The leader of the change effort must clearly communicate his or her expectations of what the people must do (both individually and collectively) to make the transformation a success.”

374 – “Stakeholders are much more likely to accept their own responsibilities in facilitating this change if they first trust the change agent’s character and the organization’s intentions, have faith in the benefits of the overall long-term process, and understand what constitutes short-term success.”

374 – “Wise change leaders will always ensure they have a robust enough system to accomplish their promised goals, even if Murphy’s law hits them in the nose several times along the way.”

375-380 Lessons Learned in How to Manage Expectations

  1. Underpromise and Overdeliver
    • An expectation manager is fundamentally a communicator, and repetition and simplicity are crucial for effectiveness.
  2. Set short-term goals with key stakeholders
  3. Have stakeholders commit in a public setting
  4. Use message repetition to communicate clarity
    • Presidential adviser Karen Hughes stated, ‘As a communicator, I like to boil things down and make them easy to remember. I also realized that about the time the rest of us get sick of hearing about them, is about the time when…they’ll begin to stick and people will actually remember them.’
  5. Changing the message is a strength, not a weakness
    • Stakeholders just want to be informed and can handle bad news; they just want to hear it from the change leader, and they lose trust when they hear it from someone else.
  6. Set up regular meetings and a communication center
  7. Managing expectation calls for establishing two-way communication
  8. Always communicate what is not possible and why
  9. The organizational leader should lead the managing expectations efforts
  10. Being positive is a catalyst in managing expectations
  11. Don’t fear inevitable incidents; just respond promptly to them
    • If stakeholders sense a cover-up of any type you will lose their long-term trust and your ability to manage their expectations. Cover-ups are what destroy trust, not the sporadic incidents that will inevitably rise during the efforts of any change leader, so do not limit communication in fear of such incidents. You cannot prevent them all, and sealing off communication prevents you from dealing with them productively when they do occur

380 – “Wise change leaders use multiple lenses when looking at their situations to help clarify and understand the managing expectations landscape in order to tailor their actions appropriately within the context of their idiosyncratic (and fluid) situation.”

383 – “Managing expectations is an essential part of the fuel required to make the impossible into a reality.”


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