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Managing Expectations: ExecuSpeak Dictionary

NEW YORK ( TheStreet ) -- "Promise her anything. But give her Arpege." Not exactly.

It may have been a great advertising slogan for a classic line of perfume, but in today's parlance it is the classic in an over-promise then under-deliver scenario. Managing expectations is about more than just keeping a promise. It's more than "say what you'll do then do what you said." It's as much about the process as it is about the promise.

Managing expectations is about keeping others informed...not just at the beginning, not just at the end, but every step of the way. From the perspective of the person (or organization) providing the information, it might feel like Too Much Information. From the perspective of those receiving the information, it frequently feels like Not Enough Information. Notice the use of the word "feel." Managing Expectations is all about recognizing and reacting to the emotional state of those who need or want the information.

Hospitals manage expectations when they provide prospective patients with detailed information concerning activities on the day of a surgery, the recovery process, and the role of the family. The challenge for the hospital is to provide information without overwhelming the patient.

On a lighter note, restaurants are managing expectations when they suggest that a table will be available in "about twenty minutes." If the next contact with the hungry diner is 40 minutes later, after multiple demands for information, the entire dining experience has been jeopardized due to inadequate information. A wise teenager is managing expectations when they let parents know they'll be late for dinner.

Who is managing expectations in the business world? Everyone. Publicly traded companies manage Wall Street expectations so there are no "surprises." Universal Studios wants to estimate opening week attendance for its latest new film. Toll Brothers tries to accurately represent the real estate market. Unions are managing their membership and company management during negotiations. Project managers are providing guidance to their teams and their clients.

The noble objective of Managing Expectations is to minimize the ever-present hobgoblin of Uncertainty. As with all management challenges, it is easier said than done. Too much information at once can overwhelm and thus make the situation worse and not better. Too little information leaves the intended recipients with higher levels of stress.

The challenge is to provide information as it's needed and/or as it is available. As with most management challenges, it's easier said than done.

--By Carol Heiberger

Heiberger is the author of ExecuSpeak Dictionary. Experience includes positions with the Ford Motor Company, Bell Atlantic, consulting, and as COO of a start-up CATV/ISP. She has expertise in strategic planning, marketing, and finance. She has taught degree-seeking graduate students and knowledge-seeking adults of all ages and walks of life. She earned her MBA from Wharton. Contact her at

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