Why it is important to set expectations

by Michael Haberman on August 12, 2014 · 0 comments


ID-10015801 Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.netHarvey Mackay is a favorite author and speaker of mine. I have found him to be inspirational for years and his wisdom to be timeless and I am not the only one. He is the author of New York Times No. 1 bestsellers “Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” and “Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt.” According to The New York Times, both books are among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time. When I ran across an article he wrote about someone else’s view on hiring good people I read it with interest.

The wisdom of David Ogilvy

Mackay, in dispensing some of his own wisdom, talked about that of legendary ad executive David Ogilvy. Ogilvy told his employees, in an address to them, the type of person he admired and the type he deplored. These included:

  • People who work hard
  • People who are smart
  • People who avoid office politics
  • People who hire subordinates good enough to surpass them
  • People who delegate
  • We abhor quarrelsome people.
  • We abhor people who wage paper warfare.
  • We abhor buck passers, and people who don’t tell the truth

I am not going to repeat the entire list, you can read it here. It is obvious that Mackay admires the advice of Ogilvy.

The wisdom of Harvey Mackay

One of the things I admire about Mackay is that despite his celebrity status he doesn’t stop learning and he doesn’t stop sharing his wisdom. In talking about his hiring practices Mackay says he prefers to hire character over ability. You can teach ability it is much harder to teach character. He prefers multiple interviews and even has people meet with an industrial psychologist.

Once you hire someone it is important that you are clear with them what is important to your organization. He said “If you don’t define your expectations, you can’t fault someone for failing to live up to them.” Many a time in my career I have run across managers who did not tell people what was expected of them and then they were surprised when the person did not meet their expectations.

I recall one set of business owners I was interviewing as a potential prospect for my consulting. They had been having great turnover with their accountant position. They had hired people to do their accounting and then fired them for incompetence within about three months. Naturally my “spidey sense” tingle upon hearing that information. I asked if they had a job description that they had shared with the candidates. They said “no they did not.” I then asked if they had ever told the new employee what they expected or how to do the job they wanted. Again, their answer was “no.” The wife/co-owner said “They are trained accountants, they should know what to do without me telling them how.”  After she disagreed with me that accounting systems might vary from company to company I ended the meeting and wished them luck. I would like to have handed them a card that had printed on it Mackay’s word “IF YOU DON’T DEFINE YOUR EXPECTATIONS, YOU CAN’T FAULTH SOMEONE FOR FAILING TO LIVE UP TO THEM.”

Have you or any of your managers ever been guilty of this? By the way, this is one question the unemployment office asks all the time.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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