How Management Expectations are like the Game of Baseball

How Management Expectations are like the Game of Baseball

Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded… We’re all familiar with baseball metaphors. In business, it isn’t always the case that a single swing of the bat will win the championship, of course. Favorable field conditions, good morale, and a whole team of talented players are critical variables.

Maybe the most crucial factor in a “bottom of the ninth” situation, however, is an underestimated one: The coach.

Put yourself in the shoes of your “star batter” for a moment: You’re an outstanding employee and you’ve been asked to take on a new project. 

Do you dive into getting the work started? Do you throw together some ideas on paper and get ready to wing it come presentation time? You feel confident in the topic and believe you can move the project forward.

Or would you spend a tremendous amount of energy pulling together every last meticulous detail?  You review your magnificent creation on paper in awe! You are nervous but ready to present the project for approval. It’s as close to perfection as you can get.

Is one approach better than the other? Well, that depends. Do you understand the expectations of the project and request?

The dilemma in this situation is that the decision is left to the employee to figure out because they haven’t gotten clear signals or training from their leader. 

A great coach understands and develops the particular strengths of their players at the critical time. They know the value of their southpaw bunters and their home run sluggers. They ensure their players have a balanced mindset, guidance, and confidence to make the right decision in the moment.

As a manager or business leader, you are the coach. Your communication and direction are required to optimize the strengths of your team members.

Leaders and employees must both be communicative about a project’s priority level. Employees need information and direction – including about a leader’s expectations for a project – right upfront. They may not know they should ask.

It seems like a simple concept, but I’ve heard this come up in manager conversations over and over. Managers are frustrated that the project an employee delivered didn’t meet what was asked of them, yet rarely does anyone try to understand why. 

Let’s look at the emotional side of things.  

  • How does the employee feel about the person making the request? What if the CEO made the request? Many would feel inclined to pour tons of energy and details into their project. Employees want to impress them!
  • Do they like and respect their manager or feel animosity and annoyance? If the leader is someone employees do not trust or like because she takes others’ ideas as her own, they may not be as gung ho to do the work. 

Let’s look at your employee’s preference for how they approach the work

  • Do they consider themselves a “take action and get it done” type of person?
  • Do they take their time to ensure all aspects have been covered in full detail? 

Most batters get up to bat, hoping for a home run, but know a base hit can keep the game in play. Work expectations can be viewed in the same way. While your best employees may always strive for the ideal, a home run, it’s not realistic or necessary to do so every time.

Here’s why… A lesson I learned the hard way.

Several years ago, I was working with an executive who was direct in his communication.  I had a lot of respect for him, and due to his job and busyness of his position, I didn’t get a lot of face time with him.  My ability to move projects and initiatives forward hinged on a single 60-minute meeting a month! I worked hard to make communication effective and maximize the time I had.

I vividly remember a conversation where I learned a tough lesson on expectations.  A request had been made the previous month, by this executive, for me to take on a new project.  I was excited by the opportunity and wanted to prove I was capable of creating and implementing his request.  I dove in and poured tons of time, energy, and caffeine into pulling it all together.

Our next monthly meeting rolled around, and it was my opportunity to shine!  Well, it was more like my opportunity to learn.

The executive listened to me, paused, and calmly replied, “Wow, you put a lot of work into this.  

“I’m going to share with you a valuable piece of information when you are asked to take on a project or initiative, and you need to understand the expectations fully. You, Danielle, gave me a home run. Quite simply, you knocked it out of the park on delivering content and ideas to me.” 

By now, I was confused. “Isn’t hitting it out of the park a good thing?” I asked.

“Not this time,” he calmly explained. “I only needed a base hit level of information. Your first few bullet points met that expectation, and the rest was overkill.  

“Based on what you shared, it is not good timing to take this project on,” he said. “Our leaders don’t have the capacity to do it, and if we choose to pursue it, the initiative is more significant than our department.”

“While I appreciate the efforts, Danielle, it is not realistic to hit a home run in every situation.  Depending on what it is,” he concluded, “maintaining an initiative or taking on a new project, a base hit may be sufficient.”

So a little advice for you as the leader: Always specify at what level the project needs to be accomplished.  Do you want a high-level overview, or do you need a plan with specific steps mapped out?  

Do your employees ask for clarification on expectations when taking on a project? If not, learn from me – you’ll save time and headaches all around by laying out the priorities and encouraging your employees to ask before diving into the work. 

This lesson I learned has come in use many times over the years. Another moment that stands out:

A CEO emailed me asking to update a job description for one of the Vice President roles. In the world of Human Resources, yes, it’s needed, but it is not critical. 

It was only a month after I started in this new job. I panicked for a moment, thinking this day was overloaded with things to accomplish already. How was I ever going to get this done too?  

Remembering the baseball/expectation lesson, I sent a simple email reply email back. “Sure, when do you need it done by?” I asked. 

His reply: “Oh, no hurry, in the next few months would be great. I just thought of it today and didn’t want to forget to ask you.”

I read his reply thinking, “Seriously, in the next few months?” But where would I have been if I hadn’t asked?

Top 3 ways to align employee and leader expectations and win the game:
  • Always follow up assignments by outlining priority levels.
  • Review the score of the game: When is the project due? In what format?
  • Teach your employees to ask whether a base hit is sufficient or if they need to hit it out of the park.

Tired of your employees, not meeting project expectations? Schedule time with me to share your top 3 challenges and learn one thing you can do to start turning this around now. 

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