I remember my first assignment as a change manager for a large multi-national.  Apart from struggling with getting a grip on exactly who my stakeholders were and where I could find them, I managed to quite quickly get myself into a spot of bother with regards expectation management.

It’s important for this story to know that I am an optimist, if there is a chance of something going right, then, why wouldn’t it? And while my optimism worked fine in small organizations; surrounded by highly intelligent, very motivated engineers who, like me, simply loved a challenge. The same couldn’t be said for my first multi-national.  Sure, the people were intelligent and some of them showed signs of motivation – but I was in a very different environment and needed to adapt rapidly.

The first sign of trouble was when I was going through my proposed presentation for the project kick-off with the HR director.

“Oh, I am not sure we should say this Harley, and indeed I am not sure we can say that, it sounds like you believe we’re going to succeed, it sounds like it’s all going to be rather easy.”

The HR director was very concerned that I should play down the expected results and be much more realistic on the effort required from others.  She turned out to be right about the later, but wrong about the former.

When I was young, most dentists were trained to say “you won’t feel a thing.” Which very quickly installed a deep mistrust and an abject fear of visiting them.  Later it became “you might feel a little prick”. (No jokes here please)! But today it’s more like “If you find anything too uncomfortable just raise your finger.”  Now, what I don’t know for sure is (objectively speaking) is the dentist visit today any less painful than before?  It certainly seems as if it is. Or is it just a matter of managing expectations sufficiently enough to remove fear and to help the patient relax and therefore cope with the pain a lot better?

There must be a lesson here somewhere for us change managers? – I’ll have to ask my dentist; my next appointment is only seventeen days away!

Have a good week


“Expectation management is the delicate balance between motivation and credibility.”  Harley Lovegrove