expectations Posts

The Expectations Game (i.e. the Failure of 18-1)

I thought the day after arguably one of the biggest upsets in sports history would be a good opportunity to talk about expectations – why we have them,  where they get us and how we can manage them.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were expected, by most, to win Super Bowl XLII – and why not? They had played 18 games this season without losing.  Reasonable expectation, no?

The result of last night’s underwhelming-until-the-last-four-minutes game produced nationwide headlines of “Giant Upset” and “Shocker” – playing up the expectations of the Patriots to win – while the Boston publications, like the Globe and the Herald, furiously backpedaled.  “Pressure Got to Them,” “Finish Wasn’t as Shocking as It Seemed” and “Nobody’s Perfect” were prominent headlines – downplaying previous expectations.

But we’re not here to talk sports.  We’re talking expectations.

1.  Why do we have them?  When we invest in something, – whether it’s our time or money (or in the case of some sports fans, our souls) – we want something in return – monetary repayment, merchandise, affection, a good feeling, just one more win.  It’s a natural occurance; exchanging of currency, in whatever its form, should result in a product equal in value.

2.  Where do they get us?  Sometimes our expectations get us what we want.  Without them, we’d be aimless.  How would we know how much to invest, if we didn’t know what we wanted in return?  How would we know something’s value if we didn’t know what it was worth to us?  But there are other times when our expectations do lead to disappointment and anger – and not just at opposing sports teams.  So…

3.  How do we manage them?  Sometimes what we want and what we get are not the same.  And sometimes an identical investment by two separate people yields different results as well.  So how do we value our returns?  This comes down to communication – on both sides.

When you order at a restaurant, you have to tell the waiter what you want to eat.  In return, you expect to be served what you requested.  You can’t walk into a restaurant, put a specific amount of money on the table and reasonably expect to be served what you wanted without asking for it.  Similarly, after ordering, a waiter can’t bring you something completely different and reasonably expect you to be happy with it (or leave a good tip).

When you make any investment, – or donation – it is important to be clear about what you expect in return.  But at the same time, organizations – including nonprofits – are responsible for articulating what an investor or donor can expect to receive in return – whether it’s a product, a receipt or an update.  Clear communication reduces the occurence of missed expectations.  The tricky part happens when what we think the investor/donor wants isn’t the same as what they actually want.  This disconnect can cause disappointment.

Today Seth Godin analyzed similar marketing motivators: fear, hope and love., citing that one of these three things influences all of our actions.  If that’s true, then our expectations are derived from the same place.  If we act out of fear, then our expectation is that by acting, we can stop being afriad.  If we act out of hope, then our expectations is that by acting, our desire will be fulfilled.

Are we doing enough to meet donors’ expectations?  Do we know what the donor really wants?  How can we reduce the disconnect between what we think the donor should want and what they are actually expecting from us?