When Your Expectations Meet Their Reality


Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Sometimes in life we just need clear expectations.

I can remember several instances in college where people needed a LOT of clear direction to determine expectations. It was annoying, to say the least. You’re in college; can’t you just figure it out? Fast forward a few years to being in the real working world and suddenly I realized that the directions in college actually weren’t that clear…but I didn’t notice, because let’s face it, in college I had other things I wanted to focus on.

When you really sit down and think about it, it’s amazing how often in life we think we’re telling someone everything they need to know to complete a task, but actually how little we describe the outcome that we expect. I’m certainly not advocating that anyone hold my hand, but I am saying that being clear and concise is worth a lot. And I don’t just mean being clear and concise with your staff…I also mean being clear with yourself. What is the end goal of the thing you’re asking your staff to do? Do you want more sales? Will your new expectations help you get more sales? Will your expectations result in punishment because the employees reached your goal but via different means than you’d expected?

Take, for example, a retail store I worked at for a few years. The store I worked in was struggling to meet its sales goals set out by corporate, but had also been asked to increase its UPT (units per transaction) numbers.

The following week I managed to sell three big ticket items. For the first time in six months, my store had made its weekly goal, in large part thanks to the big ticket items.

As a thank you, I was written up for not meeting the UPT goal, even though I had contributed over 50% of the sales that met the weekly goal.

The expectation, which was made clear in the write-up, was that it was more important to sell two packs of batteries than it was to sell one $1,500 mattress. Does this sound backwards to you? It is, and newsflash: it happens all the time, not just in this one store.

So here’s the thing about expectations: you’ve got to be clear about what it is you want from people, but as I said before, you’ve also got to be clear with yourself about what the end result you’re trying to accomplish is.

Take the store example: had we not started meeting our weekly sales goals, the company would’ve had a harder and harder time justifying why we were still open. A store that doesn’t sell enough to operate and make a profit should close. So to increase sales dollars, corporate decided we needed to sell more items, hence their UPT goals. This is a really great trick, and I’m certainly not complaining about it. Selling more items in every transaction does result in more dollars coming in. But what happened in reality was that the employees who helped meet the sales goal were punished for not meeting the lesser goal. This becomes a cycle…my coworkers saw me being written up for selling big ticket items and then thought “why should we work to sell big ticket items, when the company wants us to sell more batteries?” (Batteries are my example here because they were an inexpensive, simple add-ons to most purchases). By selling more batteries, we increased our UPT but decreased our overall sales…because we stopped focusing on items that would bring in a higher dollar value.

In the end, the store lost more money than had they simply reminded us, “An increased UPT means more dollars coming in, but hey, if you can sell a big ticket we’re all over that!”

Next time your employee reaches a target you’ve set out for them, realize that they met the end result. If they didn’t follow your best practices, or if they could’ve done little extras to achieve more, coach them. But don’t let your coaching overshadow the fact that they met the expectation.


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