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There is a ‘meeting expectations’ cult in business. It has created its own concept of (customer) services: meet customer expectations, or, better, exceed customer expectations. The cult has been developed without the cult leaders asking too much about the logic, reality, reasonability, irrationality or potential craziness of the expectations that the customer may have. The question is how to meet them, or to exceed them. It seems sometimes ‘at all cost’. After all, the same cult did create the expression ‘the customer is always right’, one of the most outrageous assumptions that business life could embrace.

I can understand the customer area. Sort of. But I have a hard time with this ‘philosophy’ when exported to all aspects of daily business life, resulting in bizarre stereotypes such as starting meetings, some times one on ones, with, ‘what are your expectations?’

Actually, I am bit harsh. That may even be OK (maybe) but once ‘expectations’ have been listed, nobody discusses the pertinence of the expectations, or their relevance, or the potential ability of meeting them. I have yet to see a meeting that starts in that way (and I attend hundreds of them in clients set up) and that, once the expectations are itemised in the flipchart, somebody says: sorry, those expectations are rubbish, or they will not be met, or wrong meeting, or they are unrealistic, or, hey, I did not know tat you were expecting this. No, here we go, lets carry on. Ticked. Next.

Also, only a minority go back at the end of the meeting and check. And then what? Is it a good meeting or a bad meeting because the expectations? What if my expectations were A,B,C and the meeting went in unexpected directions where we learnt X,Y,Z? Does it make it a terrible meeting?

‘Expectations’ is almost always a bad frame, an input an output model that intends well but creates an artificial relationship in the form of transaction: I have something to give you, list what you want. Give and take. I may give you garbage because this is what you want, so here it is. I can even excedd it. Its not up to me to tell you that your expectations seem subterranean.

Nobody (that I now) goes home and says to her husband or his wife: ‘darling what are your expectations for the evening? So I make sure we are satisfied tomorrow morning.

There is an incredible ability for business to adopt Martian language. My recommendation is ‘keep calm and speak normally; this is already 50% of he success of the meeting’.

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  1. Joan Sardà

    Interestingly I use expectations collection at the beginning of any training program to do exactly what you mean here:

    1. Understand how they structure their approach to the matter.
    2. Make it clear what this is and is not about by challenging your pre-conceptions.
    3. Force people to go beyond the usual (no repetition allowed) and start with some heat.
    4. Adjust the process of discovery to use the issues that resonate more in favor of the learning purpose and tailor the journey while meeting objectives.

    At the end I don’t check if we covered their initial expectations but if they realized that we had reset to the appropriate ones, thus consolidating the un-learning process we went through and making us aware of existing conflict.

    Hope it helps, though probably you don’t intend to make a discussion out of the particular training/development scenario and more into business meetings trying to generate that culturally mitified, sociologically senseless “consensus”.


  2. Josè D'Alessandro

    Interestingly Eataly the highly successful slowfood Supermarket (2nd most visited place in New York) have as one of their guiding principles
    “Customers are not always.
    Eataly is not always right.
    By working together we create harmony”

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