I’ve been thinking about an Edward Deming quote quite a bit in my work life lately. That quote is “you expect what you inspect”. It’s simple why. In the new portfolio I’ve taken on in the past months, our team is responsible for projects of innovation, inquiry, renewal and improvement within the organization.
On our team, we generally start our work on an initiative by looking at “what is it we do now”? “How well do we do it?” “What makes us unique?” “What holds us back?”
What we usually learn at the end of an “inspection” process are the reasons why we get the results that we do. It follows then that we would expect to get the same sort of results if we continue with the same processes. Sometimes that is just fine. We inspect a process or function, we find that it is performing admirably, and we expect that it will continue to do so as long as the environment doesn’t change dramatically. Other times though, we find that there is room for improvement, and thus embark on a project to revamp how things work, put the new process in action and then inspect it again to see if we can expect it to produce better results.
It is also apparent to me that we can apply this principle as individuals. We can also expect what we inspect. When we inspect our education level, we can set expectations of what our earning power or our level of authority might be. If we inspect how well we eat and how often we exercise, we can then set expectations of what our body weight and shape might be.
Without going into details, I think it is obvious that the same things applies as a leader of a team.
So far so good, but what this quotation really got me thinking about is what happened if we reversed it? What would happen if we were to inspect what we expect?
As I started to think about it, we probably have a few expectations that are worthy of a closer look. Are there any that come to mind for you? Here’s my list of the top three expectations that we have as individuals (and leaders) that might benefit from a little self-inspection:
- Expecting others to change to make us happy. How often do you hear someone express something like: “John over in Accounting never keeps his commitments and he really annoys me. He needs to be more responsive to what I need!” In other words, I’ll be happier when he changes! What a crazy concept … my happiness is dependent on how someone else behaves! When we stop to inspect this, we will realize that we have no control over how John behaves. We can only control how we respond to it, which right now amounts to giving our power over the situation to our anger at John. What happens if we shift our thinking to what we can control about the situation … a conversation with John, a review with our leader so the leader knows our dilemma, a change of role to move into a more rewarding environment, etc. Until we take control over our own happiness, we should be prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions.
- Expecting we can put a plan in action tomorrow. This is a simple one but so common. Every day that we plan to do something tomorrow is another day we have planned not to do something. We can only act in the present. Said a different way: decide whether you are going to start today … or not. If you decide not, then know that you will face the same decision again. When we use self-inspection here, we might want to inquire into what is stopping us from doing this thing now. It’s not important? It’s not as important as other things? I don’t want to do it? I don’t like doing this? This is someone else’s job? Knowing how we feel about it might help us with our action (or inaction) plan!
- Expecting that outcomes are within our control. Don’t get me wrong. As a leader I have high expectations of results, and I expect that my superiors have that expectation of me. Outcomes are different, as they represent the result of a single decision, transaction, game, etc. We’re not in control of outcomes because of things like luck, decision maker bias and other factors outside our control. If we inspect this expectation, we might find that we have not an expectation but a desire to control outcomes. We fear failure. We want to prove we are good enough. What is within our control are preparedness, effort and attitude. If we apply these in sufficient quantity and in the right proportions for the challenge at hand we will find that we tilt the table in our favor, and most outcomes favor us. We will get results.
So I said three expectations to inspect and there they are. They apply to each of us both in our work and personal lives. I do have one to add that applies to leaders. It is this.
- Expecting others to follow us. We have been given a leadership position and have a team that reports to us. If we have an expectation that these circumstances will result in others following us, we need to have another look at it. People follow people who inspire them. People follow people who they believe will get them where they want to go. People follow people who bring them value. If we want people to follow us we first have to be a leader. What do we do to add value to those we want to follow us?
What expectations do you have? What do you do to understand and manage your expectations? What other common expectations do you see?