• What is the downside of managing expectations down?

    If you’re like me, your early years were filled with experiences that shaped your values for adulthood. Most of us learned the value of integrity: keeping our promises and doing what we say we will do. Reliability and consistency continue to be valued by our friends and professional colleagues.

    These values carry over to business. Do what we say and make no promises we can’t keep. It’s all about execution. Our experience tells us we will receive praise if we exceed expectations. So it is natural that we start managing expectations down. If we lead a public company, Wall Street will reward us for consistency, predictability and fulfillment of our commitments. In general, we get rewarded when we “under-promise and over-deliver.” Within an organization this practice is often pervasive during budgeting. We sometimes call it “sandbagging.”

    Don’t get me wrong. I am all for “doing what we say.” But is it possible there are negative consequences associated with “under-promising and over-delivering?? Could it be that our goals, potential and ambitions are constrained and sub-optimized by our risk aversion? Have we put more emphasis on avoiding the consequences of “underperforming”? Why is it better to beat a safe goal than fall short of an aggressive goal?

    What if . . .

    • As a team, we select one of our programs to create an ambitious goal for ourselves that we believe is beyond reach?
    • We challenge our assumptions about achieving that goal?
    • We agree that falling short of that “stretch” goal is still success?

    What new possibilities would be created?

    Pushing the edge of your thinking

    1. How do you constrain your ambition by “under-promising and over-delivering”?
    2. What are your fears about setting and reaching for “stretch” goals?
    3. Are you sure these fears are real?
    4. In what situations might you explore creating a goal outside your safety zone?
    5. What would it take for you to celebrate falling short of a highly ambitious?



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