Expectations, when positive, can be an important motivation tool.  The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines expectation as “a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen” [1]   They provide the motivation to begin a new project or to plan for the future. The belief that something good will happen can provide a significant amount of energy to propel toward our goals.

Goals, in the long run, must be based on our expectations. When we discover that our expectations are impossible they stop being motivators. I realized many years ago that the possibility of winning the lottery

Chances are that unless you ask you will not get what you want.

Chances are that unless you ask you will not get what you want.

is not a motivator to me, I understand statistics and therefore I don’t play. For me, saying that I expect to win the lottery has no motivational power because I have no expectation of winning unless someone hands me a ticket.  If I were to set a goal of winning the lottery with no real expectation of achieving that goal I would be setting myself up for disappointment. Another example of the impact of the mismatch between goals and expectations can be seen in poorly set project estimates.  Occasionally (I am being kind), I see PMOs or managers set an estimate for a project team without input or participation.  Usually the estimate is wrong, and wrong low.  One could suggest that there are many physiological reasons for setting a low estimate, ranging from creating an anchor bias to providing the team a stretch goal. In most cases no one on the team is fooled (at least more than once) therefore no one is motivated.

Second criteria for maximizing to potential for meeting expectations is to voice the expectations.  My wife occasionally berates me about letting unvoiced expectations get in the way of a good time. These expectations usually have to do with the dining while out and about. Expectations that are unvoiced and therefore potentially unmet can cause anger and resentment. We can’t simply assume that the picture we have in our head about the future will just happen.  A number of times over my career as a manager, employees have come to me to let me know that they had wanted to be assigned to a specific project after someone else had volunteered.   In most cases these employees had formed an expectation about their role and the project but had never voiced that expectation.  Because the expectation was unvoiced it had far less chance of being met.

As we contemplate the New Year we need to make sure our expectations of the future are possible.  Expectations that are goals are important motivators but only if they our our expectations therefore those we believe they will happen. Voicing our expectations is also an important step towards realizing those expectations.  Like the raise you want but have not taken the opportunity to ask for.  An unvoiced expectation is less apt to evoke feedback, for example, if you asked for a raise that did not match your performance  as a child you may well have been told no.  But, unless you ask and make your case, you may never get that raise.  Setting our expectations for the New Year is no different.  Set your goals and expectations, share them and listen to the feedback.  Avoiding impossible and unvoiced expectations will  educe the potential for disappointment and resentment in the New Year.

[1] “Expectation.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/expectation&gt;