Someone once said to me that you can lower your expectations in different circumstances, but your standards should remain the same. It was during the last recession – and their theory was that at the point you blame the external environment for your performance it is tempting to let all blame fall on that environment: to become expectant of failure and therefore lower standards.
It’s OK to lower the expectations, but not for that to poison your standards. They suggested the only thing you could do was keep your focus on what you expect from people in terms of input – but understand that the output might drop.
They talked about a hotel chain that had in the annual report at the time of the Gulf War a comment that results were perhaps down due to apprehension about travel. That statement remained in there for a decade as it became a locked in excuse for poor delivery. Performance fell because standards were allowed to become informed by lazy expectations.
Manchester City and Celtic football clubs have both recently lost football matches to end long unbeaten runs. The thing is that there is an element of chance in what we do – even if a team is 95% likely not to lose a match you would still expect it to lose 1 in 20. It’s just chance as to when that 1 game in 20 arrives.
Neither club could plan to go a whole season unbeaten – you can only make sure you are preparing to compete as best as you can. I try and set my standards high for my teams – but the expectations can vary. Everybody needs to know what good looks like, but they should also know that sometimes stuff is out of your hands. But your input is always in your control.
It’s too easy to focus on outcome and lose track of what people put in – you can win a football match because you got lucky. You don’t win them consistently without exceptional standards.
I remember seeing Malcolm Gladwell speak years ago and he described the financial crisis like this ‘When the tide goes out you can see who has been swimming without shorts’
Always wear shorts. That’s the standard.