Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Last week, I wrote about the importance of building a MOAT around our goals (you can read Part 1 here if you missed it). This concept stems from the frustrating tension for Managers who have a clear destination. If you have clarity around what you want to improve, for example, or how you want to grow your team, you face this tension often. The frustration comes from being committed to achieving results and constantly feeling like you have no choice but to take a detour.
This is Part 2 of that conversation. I want to help you figure out how to put a MOAT into practice in your own life. You'll remember that MOAT is an acronym for protecting our most important goals, right?. It looks like this:
Managing expectations has two parts. First, we pre-negotiate and then we re-negotiate.
Own Your Calendar
Owning your calendar is about deciding in advance not just what you will do, but when you will do it. Decide how you intend to spend your time.
Accept Small Disasters
Small disasters are a necessary side effect of being committed to something big. Learning to accept them is not easy...and...it's necessary.
People like to know they are a part of something. The more we advocate for our big goals, the more permission we get from the people around us to protect them.
Truthfully, I used to hate it when people told me to "Manage Expectations" as a Manager. When I was already feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or...well...dumped-on...having someone advise me that I've just got to "Manage Expectations better..." made me want to throw things. And not things like lettuce. Heavy things.
So at the risk of having to duck the odd heavy flying object...I'm going to say it anyway because it sums up nicely the three things I actually want you to do. The general advice to "Manage expectations" is not very helpful because it leaves us with this question:
"And just how (the bleep) am I supposed to do that?"
I have three steps for you to think about. Because I like threes. Except in children. Those 3's are ridiculously hard.
Step 1: Pre-Negotiate
Is that a word? If not, I'm making it one. Did you know there are four monumental forces in your world as a Manager that are bringing you a constant flow of task work? It's four against one, every day of the week. If you're feeling buried by tasks, it's no wonder. Step 1 involves advocating - fighting - for your time. It's become common place for employees, co-workers, bosses and even external parties to tell you they needed it yesterday. Have you ever had that situation where you bent over backwards to deliver a report, only to discover the person you did it for took a week to read it? Yeah. Me too. Again, lettuce-throwing is simply insufficient for these moments.
People will say they need it yesterday, and at least 50% of the time, it's not true. At least 50% of the time, you can buy yourself more time. Time is your most precious, non-renewable resource. You need to constantly fight for it if you want to accomplish your most important goals. So fight.
What does that look like? By fight, I mean ask. Ask for specifics:
Do you need all of this yesterday (tomorrow, or whenever), or are there pieces that could come later?
Who is the audience, or end-user of this information?
What if I can get you this piece by tomorrow, and the other two pieces by Wednesday. Would that be workable?
Offering a flat out "No" closes the conversation and will probably not serve you well in getting an extension (or building trust and credibility). I want you to say yes, but before you say yes, I want you to negotiate. Keep asking for wiggle room until you are out of ways to ask.
Step 2: Say "YES!"
Have you ever noticed how many people simply don't do what they say they are going to do? In a world of unmet expectations, be the one who delivers. If you've pre-negotiated to the best of your ability, it's now time to say yes. Commit to providing what you agreed to, on the day and time you agreed to do it. You might not have gotten everything you wanted. You might not have gotten anything you wanted. Commit anyway.
Because you are a Manager who delivers. Do what you need to do to be a Manager of your word.
Step 3: Re-Negotiate
Once you've delivered, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back...you Superhero you :) This is why they pay you the big bucks, right? This is why they need you here. This is why you were promoted. They can always count on you to come through in a pinch.
Which is excellent of you. And. It's a problem. If you always come through in a pinch, you are teaching the people around you that you will always come through in a pinch. And if they know that you will always come through in a pinch, it doesn't necessarily occur to them to stop putting you in a pinch! It's time to have a Re-Negotiate conversation.
For this conversation, I'd recommend choosing a time one or two days after you've taken off your cape and stashed it for the next crisis. It's time to approach the source of your "last-minute-drop-everything-project" and ask a few questions:
Did that XYZ get you where you needed to be last week?
Is there anything you were missing that would have made it even more helpful?
Do you think this kind of thing will come up often?
Is there anything I can do to get more time on a project like that?
And then lay it out for them. Something like:
I was able to pull it together this time, but frankly, it wasn't my best work. I also can't be sure I'll be able to drop everything like that on a regular basis (I don't always have my super suit at the office, you know). And so on...
You might go on by sharing some of your big goals (maybe you even have a few in common with this person), or sharing the impact this "last-minute-drop-everything-project" had on your other work. This is where things get more nuanced, and you'll use all that professional judgment you've developed around what's appropriate for this relationship.
The important part is to have the conversation. Have it often.
Do you think, if you had this conversation with your worst offenders, on a regular basis, that they might start to adapt their behaviour?
It's okay if your answer is no. Not everyone in your world will get the message...or will adjust to your requests. Some people just want what they want and don't care much what it costs. Some people will adjust though. Maybe even most. You don't need to win them all.
Fight for your most important goals. Fight hard for your most important non-renewable resource - your time. Manage expectations. Build your MOAT and protect your most precious ambitions.
(and if you need to throw something now, can you please choose the lettuce?)