Tough Calls: The Impact of Higher Expectations

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Last quarter, management rolled out higher expectations of everyone. The reasons make sense but, the reality is not everyone is adapting to the new requirements as envisioned.

You are proud of your work habits and responsible track record. You’ve built a reputation for sticking to priorities but the increased demands are straining your limits. It is darn difficult to get in a bio break or have a sip of water. So at end of the day, you’re so drained that you’ve begun putting off fitness, family and friend commitments.

You realize that most of your problems are coming from one colleague that regularly brings you urgent requests but few specifics. When you ask for details, she indicates she is merely the messenger. However, you need specifics to determine whether shuffling your priorities is warranted. Repeatedly you have taken time to validate her requests – and found few to be as urgent as implied. You work on an annual contract basis. Missing your priorities reflects on your performance record, and this is a growing concern for you.

When the way performance is measured changes, it is important to know how that affects your current behaviors. It impacts where you go under pressure, and that affects how well you work with others.

How do you handle a colleague who isn’t carrying their weight?

  • Suck it up is hardly a long term strategy.
  • Confronting your colleague may not be that easy for you.
  • Talking to your manager may seem like you’re making trouble.

Here are a few perspectives…

When you always deliver and deliver well, others become dependent upon you. When you are consistently responsible, they may be inclined to take a shortcut and pass their monkey over to you. A must read: Who’s Got the Monkey, Harvard Business Review. Written forty years ago, it is a classic. With a message as valid today as it was back then.  It is HBR’s second highest selling article.

When expectations increase, identify what you must let go. Usually it means your preferred standards must change because you cannot do everything you did before plus more. It’s a time to reevaluate what is or isn’t a priority, what your standard is and whether it is essential. I often joke with clients that when the second child comes along it forces parents to adapt their standards. While two adults with one child can keep a semblance of a well controlled household, the arrival of the second child blows most illusions of control out of the water. Reality is that not until the youngest child turns six will life return to a new normal. You can fight this but even hiring a nanny requires you to adapt your standards.

How can you manage priorities while still keeping working relationships intact?
Start by examining what you may be contributing to the situation.

  • Are you assuming it is up to you to fix it?
  • Are you clear what specific details you need before escalating a request?
  • Who’s standard is your colleague not meeting – yours or the organization’s?
  • Would expecting more of your colleague feel confrontational or disrespectful?

The faster you determine who owns the problem, the quicker the problem can get resolved.

Determine your highest value work and be diligent with distractions?
Consistently giving more than you are receiving is draining. As an interim measure it’s doable but lousy as a long term approach. People who can communicate clearly and solve problems gain the respect of colleagues. They are behaviors that will serve you well when contract renewals are being assessed.

Unlearning a habit is not as easy. In fact it can be more difficult than learning a new habit. When handed higher expectations, it means unlearning familiar ways of doing things. It is critical to identify the reactionary internal process that you default to. Sticking to what’s familiar may be easy, but can block you from influencing outcomes effectively.

How do you handle colleagues that don’t carry their weight? 


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