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When reality doesn’t live up to what we anticipated, we naturally feel disappointment. You can find volumes of psychology-based, prescriptive advice on how to better manage your expectations. And if you know this is something you struggle with, I recommend you look into articles on setting expectations . But today I want to cover some proactive ways we as business leaders can better manage expectations related to this busy holiday season.

I’ll be quick with this because, after all, this is a busy time of year. And I will bucket my suggestions into categories that make sense for business for easy digestion. Not all will apply to everybody, but I’m certain a few are universal challenges we all face.

Your Toolbox for Expectation Management

In broad terms, the sharpest tools available to you for expectation management include:

  • preparation
  • effective communication
  • anticipation of potential problems
  • avoiding making assumptions
  • embracing adaptation

These five concepts comprise a process of planning that will accommodate the needs of your clients (both internal and external) and employees. This will enable you to capitalize on the opportunities available this time of year.

Client Expectations

Most all of us have learned that overpromising backfires. This is the heart of proactive expectation management. But during the holidays we may inadvertently overpromise given all the variables that make the holiday season the, well, holiday season. People are going to be out of the office and this is a good thing. Time away from the office boosts productivity in the long run. This year may be particularly unique for you if you have employees who passed up on summer time off due to the Covid pandemic and are now seeking to use the balance of their time before year end.

It is ok to communicate to your clients your anticipated drop in production over the next couple of weeks. In fact, conveying your company value of employee work/life balance can translate into effective marketing. People like to do business with businesses that reflect their own values. Don’t be afraid to put out a timeline that is perhaps less than what you normally seek to deliver. Most importantly, don’t promise a deliverable you know you cannot execute.

Employee Expectations

With proper planning, your enterprise should be able to accommodate people taking time off. Some simple housekeeping tasks to keep in mind:

  • ensure that the people covering for others have the information they need to do the job and that they know where to go or who to call when they need support.
  • communicate the schedule for Christmas Eve and New Year’ Eve
  • if applicable, share the company policy or plan for gift giving/gift exchanges
  • set the expectation early if there will be changes to any usual bonus structure (think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!)
  • remind everyone to institute their proper out-of-office notification system(s), and consider sharing the how-to instructions for your internal email system (outlook, gmail).

Preparing Yourself for the Holidays

From the practical planning you put in place to the personal mindset you cultivate, a lot of what you do to set expectations this season can positively impact your team and your clientele.

  • Be realistic with your own expectations of self. Plan ahead and practice good time-blocking to ensure you accomplish what you need to do. But also schedule time to enjoy the season – for yourself and those you love.
  • Establish adequate coverage for your areas of responsibility and confirm that those covering for others know where to go or what to do if a problem arises.
  • Communicate your holiday hours to your clients and customers.
  • Honoring your personal boundaries, use an out of office message for emails and an updated voicemail message to set the right expectations with those that reach out when you are away.
  • Consider sharing a message of thanks and encouragement for clients and employees. We’ve all endured a lot this year!

Finally, on the more personal-life side of things, take a moment to appreciate the fact that this year has brought many challenges to each of us. Many of us will be foregoing gathering with family and friends this holiday, family and friends we haven’t been able to see for some time now. Be sure to schedule time to call or FaceTime those you miss. I’m certain they miss you too!

The promise of a better year is on the horizon. This is an expectation that needs no management. I wish you a peaceful, safe and healthy holiday season.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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