It’s all about expectations

Two easy wins for Project Sponsors to become more visible and proactive - setting and managing expectations with staff and peers.


It’s all about expectations

Communication is often the area, where projects fall down and Project Sponsors have an important role to play.

When creating the content for the Online Course “Communicate for successful Change” (part of a series of practical and compact Online Courses for Project Sponsors) I came across two concepts to do with “expectations” in the communication context:

  • setting expectations for the project; and
  • managing expectations with stakeholders of the project.

Both concepts are so relevant! They are also easy wins for Project Sponsors who want to increase their visibility and be more proactive:

Setting expectations for the project

Most large change projects will have an impact on the way people work or on their behaviours in their day-to-day work activities. Whenever a project kicks off, it is crucial to inform staff, supervisors and managers what the impact of the project is. In the same communication, it is necessary to establish the expectations: e.g. “we expect all departments to participate”, or “we expect the new behaviours to be visible by a certain point in time”, or “we expect to achieve certain indicators”, …

Almost the most important piece of information is however: making it clear what the consequence is of not adhering to the expectations. The change is not optional – what will happen to supervisors or staff when they are not cooperating?

I am sure you have seen some resistant behaviours. These are some of my favourites examples: the team in the printing department, who hid a whole stack of printed customer letters, because they did not want to try the new way of working; the supervisor, who did not implement the daily huddles with the team; the regional sales manager, who did not instruct his team to participate in a pilot to try out new ways of working; countless examples, right!

What have you done about it in the past? Did you have a strategy to tackle these resistant behaviours, or did you let it go? Did you react ad-hoc when the observed behaviours were destructive? When relying on a robust Communication Strategy, you can be confident that you have communicated the expectations clearly.

Ideally you will have communicated the consequences for non-compliance (e.g. 1-on-1 conversation with the boss; tight supervision of displayed behaviour; or potentially worst case: removal from position to enable progress of the project).

Be clear in your communication that the change is not optional and there are serious consequences for not complying.

What to do:

As well as planning out specific communication activities (with the help of a Communication Plan), you and the project team should also plan out specific activities to mitigate resistance to change. When putting together the Communication Plan, brainstorm with the team some potential obstacles and agree activities you want to carry out when these become apparent. When composing the communication, make sure to set expectations and also clarify the consequences. Beware: follow up with the consequence! Otherwise you and the team might lose credibility and resistance could become worse.

If you are a Project Sponsor, and therefore the “Cheerleader for Change”, get out a notepad and jot down answers to the following questions:

1. Have we made it clear what behaviours or messages we expect from our management team and our supervisors so that they proactively support the change?
2. Have we made the change optional? Are there departments that have opted not to participate in the change – are the reasons valid?
3. What communication activities do I / the Project Team need to carry out now, in order to set the right expectations?
4. What do we need to communicate in terms of consequences?
5. Am I willing to have difficult conversations?
6. Who do I need to speak to first? What are the potential outcomes of the conversation?
7. How can I communicate change better in the future?

Managing expectations

When embarking on a project, you will possibly have compiled a business case and will expect to achieve some financial goals or operational improvements. Usually, these expected benefits are part of communication activities and senior management review the relevant KPIs in order to track benefits realisation.

What people often don’t realise: things might get worse initially, before they get better! I have experienced senior management putting a lot of pressure on the project team or departments involved in the project when we experienced a dip in performance initially or when the benefits didn’t show quickly enough.

There might have been a lag in sales increase after the introduction of a pilot; operational indicators got worse initially, instead of better; uptake of use of a certain system wasn’t as quick as expected and once the system was implemented, a dip in performance was observed (staff needed to familiarise themselves with the new application first). You can probably think of many more examples from your own experience, when benefits did not materialise as quickly as you expected.

Your role as Project Sponsor is to manage expectations with the senior management team and step in when the pressure mounts. Work out the benefits curve with the Project Manager. Then communicate clearly when you expect certain improvements to be visible or when benefits should be realised. Agree with the senior management team to be encouraging throughout the process and be patient to expect the benefits when they can realistically be realised.

What to do:

In review meetings or in relevant forums, present the timeline for the benefits realisation and agree with the senior management team how they can positively and proactively support the effort in their area. Clarify that putting extra pressure on teams and expressing unrealistic expectations might be counterproductive. Again, it’s about communicating clearly what should be happening when. This is also a good way to engage the senior management team and achieve their buy-in and secure their support.

Are you a victim of the “do more faster” attitude? These are some questions to check how realistic your expectations are:

1. When will the benefits be realised – is this timeline realistic?
2. Have I got a timeline in mind?
3. Have I communicated clearly when to expect the benefits?
4. Do we recognise that things might get worse initially, before they get better and have I communicated this amongst my peers?
5. Am I / are my peers getting twitchy, putting pressure on the teams to realise benefits quicker?
6. What forum can I use to manage my peers’ expectations and agree how they can support rather than putting unnecessary pressure on?

These are two quick win concepts for Project Sponsors to bear in mind during a project.

During conversations on Project Sponsor trainings in the past, Project Sponsors were usually aware of the importance of communication. Yet still, Project Sponsors are too busy and don’t carry out their Communication responsibilities alongside all their other obligations. In the Online Course “Communicate for successful Change” I introduce very practical and easy to apply tools and concepts to make it easy for Project Sponsors to be more visible and proactive in their role.

“Communicate for successful Change” – practical Online Course

If you want to become more visible and more proactive in Change Communication or if you want to brush up on some of your Change Communication skills, why not find out more about the Online Course “Communicate for successful Change”?

I’d be happy to accompany you on your Project Sponsor journey.

Please call me on +44 7855 919748 or send me an E-mail to I am looking forward to an informal conversation to discuss your specific Project Sponsor needs.