ENTREPRENEUR BEGINNERS GUIDE
“Don’t Manage People, Manage Expectations”
High expectations are the key to everything.
—Sam Walton, founder, Walmart
I am probably one of the worst managers ever. Perhaps I can blame an introverted personality that prefers to deal with computers rather than with people. (Computers don’t need motivation or blame their kids for missing deadlines.) I realized that I had management shortcomings after I started my company, but this realization didn’t come right away.
During the first three years operating my company, I didn’t have a problem managing people. In fact, I don’t even think I managed anyone but myself during that period. Everyone who joined my company in the first few years didn’t receive any pay. They simply shared the vision for building the best web-based publishing software possible and worked diligently to make this a reality. These individuals, most of whom were technical like me, didn’t need much management. There was an unspoken commitment and dedication to a tireless work ethic and the high expectations that we shared. There was no need to pull out the latest and greatest management software and begin managing anyone in the traditional sense. We really didn’t have time for all of that, even if we wanted to do it.
However, I ran into problems when I began to hire people who weren’t interested in the idea and team as much as they were eager to receive a paycheck. Bringing in people who didn’t share the same motivations created a new headache that I wasn’t prepared to endure. For example, I hired a graphic designer who was habitually late and who always had an excuse ready for me. He was much older than I was, so he came with a bevy of excuses that I didn’t know how to handle. He would blame his wife, his kids, his jalopy everything. Until I found the courage to tell him that I didn’t care about those things, I let him get away with missing deadlines and slowing down the team’s production. It was an especially frustrating time, but soon I had an epiphany.
I realized that you cannot manage people, only expectations. Conflict often comes from failed expectations. My relationship with the graphic designer was a prime example of this principle. Instead of giving the designer clear expectations to meet and communicating the consequences if these expectations were not respected, I treated him like my colleagues who didn’t need what I called babysitting. That had to change.
Consequently, I put in writing, in painstaking detail, what the company and team required from him. He signed the document. From that point on., if he -delivered designs late, I would refer to the document of expectations that he signed. There was no excuse that trumped the expectations to which he himself agreed. It was a powerful management tool.
I eventually had to let the graphic designer go. Although he did great work, he rarely met deadlines, and his personality and work ethic didn’t fit the team’s. In fact, he had a negative effect on our team’s morale.
I learned a valuable lesson dealing with him and other unruly employees: Make sure that you don’t try to manage people, because it’s impossible. If you try to do that, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Instead, define and manage expectations of individuals who work with you or for you. Clearly setting expectations in the beginning of the relationship and holding people to them avoids confusion and misunderstanding later. If you do this, you are on your way to becoming a much better manager than I was when I started my company.