The first leader declared that most changes were moderate successes. Times had been tough, competition was fierce and people had to work double-time to deliver results and adopt changes to how they operated. The other pronounced them to be mostly failures. The initiatives fell short of the goals regardless of the substantial resources that were dedicated to them. How could two leaders have such opposing views of the same events?
Varying views of change success is common when leaders aren't aligned on the objectives, outcomes and circumstances around an initiative. Without dialogue and guidance, their expectations are based on personal assumptions instead of facts. Past experiences, including those at other companies, frame their expected outcomes. Different knowledge and past experiences lead to different perceptions.
A challenge of differing expectations is that every leader believes their view is right and all other ones are wrong. Although the most accurate view is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of opinions, inconsistency of perceptions tends to round down the overall assessment of outcomes; the more varied they are the lower the overall view of success.
To avoid the fallout of varying perspectives on change success, it is essential to set expectations of leaders and their teams at the beginning and throughout a change initiative.
Here are some ways to align expectations with reality:
- Make sure the scope matches the resources available to achieve it – if not, the odds are you will fall below some leaders' expectations regardless of the good work you do
- Schedule leader reviews of your change plan at key milestone points to ensure the assumptions underlying it are still correct – the plan (and expectations of leaders) must be updated to reflect current realities
- Meet regularly with each leader to update them on progress made and gain their feedback – they may hold outdated perceptions that might not be caught in leadership team reviews
- Ask leaders for help if you fall behind – participation leads to greater understanding and valuation of outcomes
- Conduct a formal project review before closing the project – it reminds leaders of the agreed-upon outcomes and provides evidence that they were achieved
- Hold final interviews with each leader to record their views on the level of success achieved – this will solidify them in leaders' minds and record them as reference points for the future
Managing expectations of a change initiative aligns people on objectives, process and outcomes and minimizes personal biases. The more aligned people are on past successes or failures, the more aligned they will be on what needs to be done to secure a successful future.