Consider outcomes versus expectations. For example, an airline touts its safety as a selling point. But it isn’t. Safety is expected, demanded, and is not thus impressive or surprising.

An important line from this week’s book. Outcomes versus expectations in relation to praise. No one will ever call the power company to say thanks for keeping the lights on. We’re not impressed. A teacher who actually taught kids? That’s an incredible thing that everyone expects to happen. 99% runtime for your servers? Okay. The list of amazing-but-expected things goes on and on. I wish it didn’t.

It’s a huge disappointment when, as a manager, you do something of great leadership, something truly selfless, and no one thanks you. Goes with the territory. Those big moments are just expected. It’s the little surprises that generate a spark.

When the executive team decides to provide a great benefits package at tremendous cost, a package that actually gives people affordable healthcare, does anyone thank them? Not many. But give people an extra holiday and suddenly you’re the greatest boss of all time. It’s such a surprise! 

The worst bosses will manipulate this and give small rewards instead of caring for the things that matter most. Doing this saves tons of money. Yes, there are no health benefits but if you hit your targets, you can earn more money. Oh, and come into work whenever you want. We don’t care! And don’t forget we have Hawaiian shirt day every month.

The weakest bosses can follow the praise and end up in the same boat. No one seemed to care about dental so we got rid of it. We’re doing a three-day retreat in Maui instead. Bring your Hawaiian shirts!

The problem, of course, is the manager’s nagging desire to impress, excite, and play to the responses of the team. We all want to be heros. But since most of what great managers do is the stuff that people expect, it feels thankless. The staff won’t carry you out on their shoulders because you are a good, decent person who thinks clearly and does some gentle course correction now and then.

It’s a flaw in mindset. This week’s book characterizes it as the tension between outcomes versus expectations. When we as staff or we as manager’s play to expectations, we get what we expected. Whoop-tee-do. When we go a step beyond and start to play to outcomes, the things that actually create positive change, we get the hero’s response.

A manager of a winning team? A team that actually achieves a meaningful outcome? Well, that wasn’t the expectation. That was the hope.

Doing what’s expected is the very definition of the job. Defining, pursuing, and perhaps even achieving the hopeful outcome is where the rightful praise can and should be earned.

Photo by Robert Sheie