Vision and expectations

Sarah Willcox

Image of a staircase leading upwards illustrating the Fairisle article Vision and expectations

The difference between vision and expectations

When leading a team through change it’s important that expectations are clear and well understood. If the team has a shared purpose then surely it will get through the change successfully?  Sadly this is not always the case.  And the reason often lies in the difference between vision and expectations.

Expectations are planned disappointments

In many cases expectations are in fact planned disappointments.  If we think ‘I expect my parcel to be delivered at 3PM’ but it comes at 3.40PM, then our expectation is unrealised.  An expectation Implies that we need things to turn out exactly the way we had planned for it to be successful. And in business, as with parcel deliveries, not everything turns out exactly the way we expect.

Visions are more helpful

It’s for this reason we prefer to think about vision rather than expectation. Vision’s an overused word but it is helpful here. It’s a bit like moving house. You expect it to take longer than you think because there aren’t enough power outlets or some other contingency. But what keeps you going is the vision of how it will be when everything is in place.  Even if it hasn’t turned out exactly how you thought, a vision is flexible enough for it not to matter.  The sofa is too big for the front room.  But the way the sun spills through the window in the evening is amazing.

Vision vs expectation

When you’re planning a change, and want to share a compelling picture of the future bear these five pointer in mind:

Expectations are things you hold on to and are fixed, so don’t allow easily for change.

Visions feel external – they are things that you can move towards, like a landmark in the distance.

Expectations are things you have – they are for other people to meet and so don’t require any work on your part*

vision is something out there that you move towards – to realise it will take some work on your part, which may take more effort but will definitely be more interesting.

Expectations tend to be clear and tied to a particular outcome – so if what happens doesn’t match or isn’t complete, you are likely to be disappointed.

Like a landmark that you’re moving towards, what you see in your vision changes as you move closer to it.

Expectations feel ‘contractual’ – which is ok for service in a restaurant or getting your tyre changed but maybe not helpful in a change situation.

Visions need talking about to be shared – they need to be lived, and revisited. They need to be refined as your circumstances change and as your experiences shape you.

Expectations are about management.

Vision is about leadership.

Are you looking to clarify your vision for the future? If you would like help setting the conditions for sustainable change, book your free consultation.

* Unless they are expectations of yourself, in which case, that’s a whole other ball game and a post for another time.

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