Thursday 14 February 2013

The ABC of managing expectations - Always Be Contracting

I facilitate a lot of management developement programmes and central to my approach is to encourage managers to think critically about their practice and to use it as the basis for inquiry and development.

Just this week I have been working with a group looking at the management of performance.  The part of this that they found most useful was to map out their expectations of each role or roles which they manage, and for them to also give thought to the expectations that these same roles might have of them.

On the face of it this is a deceptively simple process but what it has revealed are several taken-for-granteds about managing people and their performance

People know what's expected of them - they have a performance plan

Performance plans tend to focus on outputs rather than expectations.  A lot gets taken for granted about the standards of performance that provide the inputs to the outputs.

Managing is about making demands of others

In part this is true but managers overlook the extent to which others make demands of them too.  What's being taken for granted are the asymmetrical power relationships of hierarchy and the tacit 'right' of those who are further up the chain to make demands in one direction.

Conflict - what conflict?

As part of the analysis I ask managers to surface areas of conflict between their expectations of others and others expectations of them.  What becomes clear is that conflicts are tacit rather than discussed explicitly.  Once thought about, managers are then able to access a deeper sense of some of the interferences that might be affecting their working relationships and the impediments to performance.  The discussion that follows is about the extent to which expectations of others and vice versa are clear.

Contracting expectations - Always Be Contracting

Contracting is an idea borrowed from coaching that I think is relevant to line managers in the management of performance expectations too.  The ABC mnemonic Always Be Contracting is about always being alert to what's going in a performance discussion: to sense and make sense of conflicts and tensions, to make explicit our expectations and understand others expectations of us, to talk about these is ways that are personal, practical and encourage responsibility. 

This is a process that is taking place continously and emergently from the management of performance and always two-way.

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