I don’t generally write articles that are based on the meaning of words and how that influences our perspective. Yet, I’ve been contemplating the differences between aspirations and expectations for a period of time and I believe it’s worthwhile to take a moment to further explore how their interpretation can meaningfully impact your culture.
Expectation – a belief that something will or is likely to happen
While the differences may be subtle I think the effect can be tremendous. Let’s start by stating you have an expectation that loans will grow by 10% this year. The definition implies that not only is it likely to happen, but there will be some level of disappointment if the growth is not achieved. Should the goal actually be met there’s a diminished sense of accomplishment – after all it was expected. Furthermore, there isn’t any implication of the amount of work that may be required in order to achieve the desired loan growth. In my experience positive results don “just happen” without sound, actionable strategies and solid execution. It’s important to realize this upfront and also to recognize the effort and exertion required to bring the results to fruition. If it’s expected the desired outcome is taken for granted.
Aspiration – a strong desire to achieve something high or great
However, if you aspire to achieve double digit loan growth I believe that there are some additional, very beneficial implications. First there’s the desire – suggesting that this might be something that you really want to happen while also indicating that it will not materialize without some focused action. The acknowledgement that you will not be able to achieve the measure without putting in the requisite effort emphasizes the fact that in order to achieve something high or great you have to actually do something substantially different or it will not transpire. The latter half of the definition acknowledges that achieving the goal is a significant accomplishment – something to be recognized and celebrated – not going unnoticed or quickly forgotten.
Semantics yes, but Employee Perception is Their Reality
So what does this have to do with your culture? In a high-performing organization isn’t it all right to expect great results? The flaw in this thinking is that it doesn’t adequately acknowledge the efforts of the people required to obtain the extraordinary outcomes. Eventually the star performers who generate the lion’s share of results tire of ever increasing expectations and being taken for granted. The overriding motivational factor is fear of failure, which is not a prescription for long term employee engagement.
Conversely by conceding upfront that the goals may be lofty, but achievable given sufficient effort, you have emphasized their importance and the critical role each employee will need to play in reaching such a lofty height. If you commit the necessary resources and pay attention to progress periodically along the way that’s further reinforcement that the mission the employees are doing is critical to the success of the institution, not just “part of their job”. Finally, upon successful attainment of the goal, by recognizing and celebrating the efforts the individual’s involved you’ve created an environment where teams come together collectively in wanting to take the organization to even greater heights. Not out of fear, but genuine engagement that is sustainable over the long term. If you aspire to have a great credit union that soars to new heights be wary of simply setting expectations.