Want To Lead Change? Better Get These Right

If you’re a leader, you lead change. As you become more senior, the bar raises. You shift from leading change where outcomes are known to lead change where outcomes are unknown. 

It’s no longer lead us from X to Y, it becomes from X to ?. 

If you want to successfully lead change, you absolutely must get these right:


Setting The Wrong Expectations

When expectations are too high, any variance from the original plan is viewed as trouble. 

  • Reordered your project plan? You are behind. 
  • Changed your working hypothesis during customer validation? You were wrong.

When expectations are too low, the initiative doesn’t get resourced properly impacting the likelihood of success. 

  • We’ll just add that onto Bill’s plate. He’ll assist you when he can.

So, how do you set expectations just right?

3 Types of Expectations

There are 3 Types of Expectations you have to nail if you want to successfully lead change.

Expectation #1: Timing

Most leaders fall into the trap of committing to future outcomes without enough known variables. It’s the classic “over promise, under deliver.” 

You might be saying to yourself… “The organization is spending big money on this. They want a plan right?”

If you’re truly leading change into the unknown you don’t have all the answers…yet. How could you? 

A friend of mine recently referred to these types of plans as “low fidelity.” 

In the beginning, what you have is a process that will lead you to the answers. 

Instead, plan to execute a process until you have enough information to commit to outcomes.

Expectation #2: Pivoting

When investments (and tensions) are high, it’s common to want to place an overemphasis on outcomes than on learning. 

This is bad.

In my experience, this is more emotional than logical in the mind of the leader i.e You. 

None of us want to think we were “wrong,” and new learning can do that you to.   

A few years ago, I led a multi-million dollar expansion of a key service line. A few months into a 1.5 year initiative I realized one of our target markets needed to change. 

We had completed a large acquisition since our initial analysis, which shifted our customer data demographics. I was scared to present the pivot, worried that it would look like we weren’t detailed enough during the initial due diligence.

No sleep the night before. Uncomfortable on the morning flight to HQ. Uneasy, I presented the new recommendation to our executive team:

Here’s the impact of the change on our schedule. What it means for this year’s budget and the long-term benefit of pivoting now before it’s too late” I said in the meeting. 

“Go do it.” 


Expectation #3: Iterating

They call them speed bumps for a reason. 

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman, CEO, and Founder of Netflix

Don’t be afraid to not get everything right, initially. Most leaders want the 1st of something to be perfect. The 1st launch of X. The 1st opening of Y. 

This is because we know there are a lot of eyes watching and judging will happen. Make sure the organization knows the 1st of something isn’t the end. It’s the middle – at best

It should be perfect and it will be…when you invest your resources in iterating, not in over-engineering.

As the leader, when you prioritize learning over knowing, execution speed becomes your advantage. Paradoxically you actually increase your chances of a quality deliverable at the end.

Manage these 3 types of Expectations properly and your results won’t be too warm or too cold. They’ll be just right. 

Setting Expectations Just Right

One time I witnessed a leader communicate a beautifully clear and compelling vision that delivered on its objectives 9 months too late. Unfortunately, he didn’t – he’d already been let go. I told him about it though.

I’ve seen another leader fall short on a large investment, but manage the ship gracefully on the way down. He’s still around.

That’s what setting the right expectations can do for you. 

If you’re a leader, leading change is what you do. Just don’t forget, expectations will be set. 

Are yours set just right? 

Published by brianhquinn

I write a weekly post to help you grow professionally, elevate your career and Become an "A" Player.

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