Last Friday night, my back seat passenger window refused to go up. When I investigated, I could hear the motor mechanism clicking, but the window didn’t move. It was probably jammed, I thought.
The next day, I went to my car dealership and was able to get a technician to take a look without an appointment—things were looking up. He said it was probably a faulty cable. It would cost $500 to repair and take about two hours install the new part.
“$500!” I exclaimed, with a look of horror on my face. “Couldn’t it be something else?” I pleaded.
“I hope it’s not the motor” he said. Motors must be more expensive than cables, I thought.
My car repair experience is similar to most activities in life: we evaluate how well things are going based on our expectations. Often these predictions are not based on fact but rather wishful thinking.
Organizational change operates in the same way; exceptional performance can be perceived as sub-standard results when compared to unrealistic expectations. “I was expecting X,” is a common comment from leaders whose perceptions are higher than reality.
Here are six ways to manage this bias when managing a change project:
- Build awareness up front that the project plan (or outcomes) will need to be adjusted if conditions change or the agreed level of support is not provided—not doing so leads to impressions of mismanagement or failure
- Brief leaders and their teams on changes (and how they will impact them) as they occur—delaying communication only make gaps appear worse
- Compare progress with similar change projects—either internal or external—facts and data are the best defense against guesses
- Build in room for variances in your plan—provide timing ranges when specific dates are unknown (e.g., week of September 29)
- Identify contingencies you can activate quickly if your original plan is no longer possible—minimize the gap
- Stay connected with stakeholders, especially those managing the business, to proactively test and adjust assumptions
- Remind people that it is normal for a change plan to be updating—people often forget
Setting realistic expectations is critical to the success of any change project. Without them, some people are going to be disappointed regardless of the benefits of the outcome.
My window repair cost $479.25 and took one and a half hours to complete—slightly better than my informed expectations. The dealership washed my car too, which was a bonus. As I opened and closed my now working car window, I felt lucky.