No Surprises

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“In business, there is no such thing as a good surprise.”

–     Steve Heston

Is it gratuitous to quote yourself in your own blog?  Dang.  Sorry ’bout that.

I hope it wasn’t a surprise, though.  Because there really are no good surprises.

“But, Boss,” the sales person says, “the deal came in 20% more and ten days sooner than we forecast.”  As often as not, that says more about the ability to forecast than it does the sales acumen.  “I made 331% of my quota!”  Sorry, the quota was either poorly set, or we don’t know our business as well as we should.*

And it’s not just deal-centric.  “No raises this year,” on the day raises were expected to be announced is a failure of leadership, not of budgeting.  A bad performance review?  It should have been signaled a dozen or more times in the weeks leading up to the review period.  (Better yet, ditch the formal / annual / forced review period in favor of constant, consistent feedback.  Waiting six months or a year to do reviews is an outdated practice, one that is a clear indication of structure over strategy, and that’s backwards.)  Personnel decisions in particular should never be surprises.

In general, surprises mean we’ve failed to set expectations, and they usually mean our environment isn’t designed for success to be the most likely outcome.  (See the REELAX Model here.)  Can surprises always be avoided?  Of course not.  But difference makers bend over backwards to communicate, communicate and communicate — to build solid expectations and deliver on them, predictably and consistenly.

Leaders lead.  And good leadership means dang few surprises.

 

* Editor’s Note:  There are “blue birds,” I get it, deals that just happen.  For example, a whole bunch of media sales people benefitted from the windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars of political advertising thrown into the mid-term elections.  The leaders that really get the business, though, at least talked about the possibility of that happening before the money came rolling in.  I’m beating a long-deceased equine here, but the point is this:  Avoid surprises like the plague.  You’ll never regret it.


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Comments

  1. Timothy J Cornell says:

    To me it seems a good leader is constantly dealing with surprises, because they’re growing and going somewhere and entering foreign land. They thrive on the surprise. What makes life great and exciting is surprise. The same goes for business. Big goals, unwavering commitment – if that’s what the leader is doing, there will be more surprises then can be imagined. That said, those being led need to be communicated to in a way that shows a certain level of safety and security. It seems to me the leaders job is to live in the surprise and “unwrap it” in a way that builds trust and loyalty and engagement. That’s one of the great “arts” of leadership.

    • Tim, I like where you go with this. That said, I’d probably suggest the line of demarcation on this topic for me is when expectations are in play and commitments have been made, as opposed to the “surprises” that you reference. If I understand where you’re coming from, those are “in the flow” situations, rather than unmet or wildly surpassed expectations. The wonder and “thrill of victory / agony of defeat” moments are part of the ebb and flow of day-to-day, and I agree completely that we ought to embrace them and respond with our best passion and focused energy. When it comes to outcomes, though, that’s the point of reference from which the post is written. “Unexpected events” are sure to be a part of our day. 90-degree turns in what leaders have presented as a “straight road,” or unplanned exits from what someone in the business has committed to are the surprises I’m suggesting get us off track.

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