Setting expectations is a fundamental part of any lasting relationship. You need to define what you do for each other, and with each other.
Properly setting expectations is something that’s, generally, not done well (or done at all). We tend to try to make the client conform to our methodology and our way of doing things - without taking time and effort to talk to them about their way of doing things. We also forget to set expectations across multiple levels in the organization. You know, the other people who are indirectly involved in the engagement, but have influence or “say” that impact the outcome.
When you are working with your client, there are several phases in the life of the relationship when setting expectations should occur. They are:
In the selling phaseIn the buying phaseIn the startup phaseIn the work phaseIn the milestone phaseIn the end phase
Or, in other words, set expectations in all phases of the relationship! Each point in time provides you with the opportunity to establish, confirm, and re-establish or adjust expectations as needed.
"Never confuse implementation with selling." - Doland White
Setting expectations is particularly important in the selling phase. There’s an old saying (I think its mine) that says – “Never confuse implementation with selling.” The truth is both implementation and selling go hand in hand – with proper expectations.
Be candid. When setting expectations, use candor. Be professional – but be direct. Don’t cloak anything or soften the message.
Be authentic. Tell them what you look to accomplish and what it will take to get there. This is their opportunity to agree with your plan and truly commit to going forward.
Be realistic. Be realistic with time frames, level of effort, deliverables, and dates. It’s up to you to be 100% clear on all of the project steps. Remember, that’s probably one of the key reasons why you were hired. You have the expertise that they don’t have
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” ― Donald Miller
Be human. Remember - they are human. As humans, they, like you, are vastly imperfect. By setting expectations, you can help both of you reduce stress and anxiety should there be challenges along the way. Tell them about your experiences and what you’ve seen with past clients. If you’re new to consulting, borrow the stories from a trusted friend.
Be truthful. Finally, always be honest. Let me say that again. Always be honest.