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Knowing The Unknown In Corporate World

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Understand The Expectations From You

I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.

—The Buddha

Once upon a time, there was a young man who hated the King, his boss at his organization. He had all the reasons to dislike the King. The young man was intelligent and hard-working, but, in spite of his serious efforts, he was unable to meet the King’s expectations. Day by day, the young man was getting frustrated. He tried his best, met each deadline, yet he knew that the King was not happy with his performance.

This had never happened to him before. In his college days, he was the top student, always excelling at his studies. Interestingly, during the campus interview, he had rejected this job offer. But then, this very King had persuaded him for hours to join his company. However, things changed once the young man was a part of the company—he felt that the King never appreciated his efforts.

The picture became clearer during his first appraisal, when the King formally expressed his dissatisfaction over his performance. The King said, ‘Young man, I had expected a little more from you.’ He felt miserable since this was the first failure of his life. The King was a man of few words, and his statement made the young man nervous. He did not ask further; instead, he promised himself to work harder. He said, ‘Your highness, I will work even harder and will ensure that you are happy with my work in my new assignment.’ The King smiled.

Over the next six months, he worked even harder. But at the time of the next appraisal, the feedback was no different. The King repeated, ‘I had expected a little more from you.’

Yet, surprisingly, this time the King gave him a good rating and increment despite that comment. That the King was still not happy with his performance was a shock to the young man and the discussion shattered his confidence.

He wanted to clear the air and met the King again. He asked, ‘Your highness, I tried everything, stressed myself out to the hilt . . . I want to understand what went wrong with my performance this time.’

The King said, ‘When I requested you to join us, I knew that you were brilliant. I did your reference check myself and spoke to your professors; everybody told me that you would be an asset to the company. So, I never equated you with other employees. In my mind, you are to deliver much more than any normal employee. That was my expectation. There is no doubt that you worked hard and did what you were asked you to do, but I expected something more.’

‘But, your highness, you should have told me this before.’

‘I agree that we need to express expectation in a transparent way. The lesser the ambiguity, the better it is. But, in reality, we seldom speak out all our expectations, and that is where the problem begins. Even if I had told you what I expected of you, a few things would remain unstated. The skill is to understand and deliver the unspoken.’

‘In that case, your highness, I do not deserve such a good rating or the increment! You did not punish me for not meeting your expectation. Why is that?’

‘I did not since your performance was far better than others’ on the stated expectation. I know that I did not define everything well; therefore I have no right to penalize you. During the earlier appraisal, I did indicate my dissatisfaction and wanted you to pick up the clue. You failed. Many bosses may not be so generous. You need to anticipate the unstated, and that will be the proof of your smartness.’

The young man received a very important lesson of his life. He lived happily ever after.

A job description can be deceptive; in fact, it can be the biggest deterrent to your career. What we need to understand is that the company’s expectations are always greater than the declared objective. You are supposed to deliver what you are told; but everyone else will also deliver the barest minimum—so how will you be different?

If you deliver only what you are told, you become just another performer in the bunch. However, since you have decided to race ahead of the others, you need to deliver something more, something that is unstated. The trick is to understand the unstated yet expected objective.

A corporate comprises people from various backgrounds. Their ways of communication differ. Some of them will state expectations explicitly; some will prefer to hold onto their ideas; some will expect you to understand for yourself; and some will balance out all these approaches. There is no single formula to discover what is expected of you. A good performer always delivers what is stated, so the expectation grows further. Many people will expect you to deliver more than the stated—seniors, peers, even juniors. The more clearly we understand that, the better is our chance to excel.

Each move you make sets the expectations in others’ minds. It may not always be through a written or verbal communication; expectations can change through certain actions that you or they have performed unknowingly. They can be changed because of your past performance. They can be based on the perception you have created in others’ minds. First, it is important for you to find out what is expected of you, and this includes the unstated expectations. You need to be clear on this aspect every moment, so that you can deliver results effectively.

If, at any time, you feel that the expectation from you is unreasonable, please reason it out. No one will do that for you. At the end of the day, you need to manage each of the expectations from you. It is always better to counter a challenge upfront than fail the expectation later. If you manage expectations upfront, it will be clear to both sides. The other side should know what to expect and when to expect it. Be realistic in your approach. If, at any time, you feel that you may not be able to meet the expectation, please communicate this to the other side and agree with the new norms. The case may be that even after a discussion, your request is not accepted—fair enough. At least you will know what action and resources you need now to meet the expectation. The better you manage expectations of stakeholders, the easier will be your growth to the top.

In several corporate workshops, the speaker starts by asking, ‘What do you expect out of today’s workshop?’

We all speak out our expectations. The speaker notes them down, and, at the end of the day, he or she usually revisits the points. In most cases, it is evident that he or she has done a good job by meeting those expectations. Yet, everybody does not leave the workshop in the same frame of mind. Some go back happy, others dejected. The reason is simple—though we had stated our expectations and the speaker met them, we had a few unstated expectations in our minds. If those are not met, we feel something is missing.

Similarly, in any corporate office, everything will never be defined. You need to master the art of knowing the unknown and delivering it. The onus to deliver is on you.

(Extracted with permission from Penguin India from chapter titled Dos under the section Walking Through The Jungle in the book Make It Or Break It)

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