09 – expectations

What are expectations? Who sets them and how are they fulfilled? How do we know when we meet them or not?

Every day, my kids expect to be able to watch some TV at around 4:30 in the afternoon. This is their TV time: an episode of Magic School Bus, Word World, and either Curious George or Berenstain Bears. That’s what they expect and since they know how to tell time, they make sure that we’re aware of their expectations. Those expectations are fairly easy to understand – they either get TV or they don’t. Their expectations are exceeded if instead of TV shows on the DVR, they get a movie. Their expectations are exceeded even more if they get popcorn during the movie.

Their expectations and the thresholds are easy to understand.

Recently, one of my coworkers purchased a Hyundai Sonata. After test-driving many other cars, he didn’t expect much from the Hyundai but after taking a Turbo Sonata out for a drive, he was impressed. It easily exceeded his expectations. Needless to say, he owns a Hyundai now.

Similarly, I traded my Ricoh GRD3 for a PEN EPL1 with kit 14-42 (extra cash left over went to bike parts and speaker harnesses for my car). The PEN is *awesome*. Coming from a speedy SLR and a compact fixed-focal length small-sensor camera, the EPL1 easily exceeded my expectations for a camera that I would want for those times when the SLR is “too much camera”.

I can’t say the same for expectations when it comes to my job. Although I’m technically a systems engineer, I haven’t done much design or real ‘engineering’ lately. Rather, in my primary role as customer liaison, my job is to manage expectations. My customers expect X capability, but we can deliver Y or Z capability, so I have to ensure that they understand that rather than X, they’re getting Y or Z. At the same time, I’m telling my technical directors and program management that our customer expects X so we can, as an organization, find a way to deliver X in addition to Y or Z. I relay this to the customer then work in the lab to ensure that X is happening and that Y or Z didn’t break along the way.

You know what I do? I’m kind of like Tom Smykowski from Office Space – the guy who invented the Jump to Conclusions mat. Here’s a quote that I can personally relate with:

Tom Smykowski: Well-well look. I already told you: I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don’t have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?

Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

Anyway, what should my company expect of me? I perform the roles of several people, have increasing technical, management, and customer-facing responsibilities, and I’m working on things that have no precedence. Sounds complicated? It is. But, I’ve recently been told that I only meet expectations. I don’t exceed them. I apparently don’t sacrifice enough personal or family time nor do I work enough 12-hour days nor do enough travel at a moment’s notice. I only satisfy my job requirements – I don’t exceed them.

Are my managers and peers expecting so much from me because I’ve exceeded their expectations before? Am I expected to constantly outdo myself in order to exceed their expectations again and again? Once expectations are exceeded, at what point does someone say, “well, that’s just normal for him – he’s just half-assing everything now”?

I try not to half-ass anything. I can be a pretty intense person if the passion is there.

When I used to run regularly, once I exceeded the 10-mile run, shorter runs became pretty lame. Similarly, with my bike rides, anything less than 18-20 miles is somewhat moot. BUT, those are expectations I place upon myself.

One of my old roommates always used to say, “hope for the best, expect the worst.” He managed his expectations by expecting nothing. Unfortunately, I can’t live like that. I give the best and I expect the best. It’s only fair. I expect the best from the people around me because I am putting in my best. I have high expectations as well.

I guess part of managing  expectations is managing the relationship between the person with expectations and the person expected to meet them. The people who have expectations of me probably believe that I’m willing to sacrifice all of my family time in order to meet the organization’s goals. They probably expect me to strive harder towards a position with even more responsibility and even more ‘opportunities’.

I like my job and I like what I do and I like all of the people I work with – some more than others. Unfortunately, I can’t give 110% to everything. Something has to give. It ain’t going to be my family. Besides, I’m only meeting expectations, right?

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