Leadership

Abandoning Great Expectations: How Entrepreneurs Can Avoid Disappointment

In entrepreneurship as in the rest of life, there is usually a gap between what we want and what we have. Dealing with it is another leadership skill.
Abandoning Great Expectations: How Entrepreneurs Can Avoid Disappointment
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Guest Writer
Entrepreneur |Speaker | Educator
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As anyone who has survived childhood knows, the worst feeling in the world is provoking someone’s disappointment.

And that feeling is no different for businesses. After going public, Snap -- the brand behind Snapchat -- earned nearly $150 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2017. This number, which represented a significant increase from Snap’s $39 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2016, would normally feel worthy of a celebration.

Not for Snap, which was expected to bring in $158 million in the first three months of 2017. Snap’s inability to meet analysts’ expectations resulted in a stock drop of more than 20 percent within a day of its announcement.

These kinds of disappointments sneak up on entrepreneurs in lots of ways, from frustration expressed by board members over sales to the letdown of seeing employees fail to meet standards. Expecting disappointment to disappear altogether is unrealistic -- and bound to create more disappointment -- but leaders can find ways to shrink the gap between what they want and what they have.

Related: 8 Questions That Will Help Set the Right Expectations With Investors

That all-too-familiar sinking feeling.

Suffering is the gap between expectations and reality, and disappointment is something most entrepreneurs are all too familiar with. When we started our own businesses, most of us hoped success would bring us the freedom to work on our own schedules, as well as a level of financial abundance that our previous jobs couldn’t provide and the fulfillment that comes from knowing we’re making a difference.

But the experience most small business owners have doesn’t include financial abundance, total fulfillment or the kind of freedom that we imagined we were creating for ourselves. Typically, you see the opposite: Business owners tied to their computers and phones at all hours, struggling to make ends meet financially and spending most of their time doing everything other than what’s most fulfilling or inspiring.

We expect that hard work, intelligence and luck will lead us straight to entrepreneurial nirvana. When our wishes aren’t met, we increase the expectations we place on our teams without communicating them. We’re then disappointed with their work and convinced that we’re the only ones who can truly get results. Thus begins our little dance of circling each other, avoiding wrath or being overly nice to cover up our shared sense of disillusionment.

I’m the last one who reviews the work submitted by my team at ONTRAPORT. That means everything on my desk has not only been completed by my employees, but has also been reviewed by their managers. By this point, I typically either approve the project or  only need to offer tweaks. However, there are times when something comes to me and it’s completely off-base from my expectations. I’m often at a loss for what feedback to provide and find it difficult to articulate where to start fixing things. I get upset about the amount of time and resources the team put into the project that we can’t get back..

And a lot of the blame resides with me.

Related: 8 Unrealistic Expectations That Can Harm You

Pointing the finger in the mirror.

After the initial wave of disappointment passes, I realize that I have to take responsibility. Blaming and victimization are convenient, but they also lead to tight, restrained outcomes. I still don’t get what I want -- or what the business needs. The real problem started with me and my unspoken expectations.

But the beauty of this perspective is realizing that if I created this, I can also fix it. The solution isn’t to take over the work myself -- that would just lead to burnout, poor customer experiences, diminished sales and an inability to scale the business. Instead, I’m constantly finding new ways to create what I call “clarity tools.” These are three clarity tools I recommend to any other entrepreneur battling disappointment:

1. Make the expensive investment in recruiting and training.

Many small businesses are so desperate for help by the time they post an opening that they’re eager to bring on the first seemingly capable person who crosses their path. Recruiting is expensive, both in time and money, but it’s worth the cost. Vetting employees early means not only looking for people whose skills match your needs, but also those who share your vision and can anticipate your expectations. This short-circuits some of the gaps before the employee starts.

But even these like-minded employees need upfront expectations verbalized by you. Identify the practices that have made your most successful employees so successful, and create training that instills their perspective in new employees. Ask these successful veterans to mentor your new hires so you’re reinforcing the exact mindset you’re asking them to adopt.

Some entrepreneurs fear training people well enough to succeed means they’ll take those skills elsewhere. But as Henry Ford said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

Related: Why So Many Businesses Mess Up Employee Development

2. Create visible standards to ensure there’s agreement.

People used to pitch article topics for our blog with a brief summary and some bullet points on what they wanted to cover. What they thought was good and what we actually wanted were two very different things.

We now ask contributors to fill out a content brief. The brief requires them to do some research on the audience for the article and gain an understanding of the types of information the audience is seeking on a particular topic. Then, the writers outline how they’ll provide that information and the ultimate goal of the article - or the outcome the reader will experience after reading it. . Having the writer complete this research before they start writing saves time and resources.

Today, we require a content brief before any big writing project, and businesses in any industry can require similar templates or processes to guide their team members in understanding their goals and outlining the project before getting started. This eliminates confusion and sets a common standard.

3. Elevate customer support’s importance by offering context.

During new-hire training, our leaders give insight to employees about our business’s audience -- entrepreneurs and small business owners. We explain the “entrepreneurial struggle” and describe the typical around-the-clock schedule and all the challenges that come along with starting and owning a business.

We provide this information so that our team can better serve our customers with compassion and remarkable service. Our opportunity lies in our ability to be of service and support our clients in solving their problems.

Taking it a step further, we’ve put in place standards for the ways we communicate with our customers. This not only ensures that the attitude of our team reflects our company’s values, but also that we’re providing consistent responses and support to our customers. We’ve clearly outlined how employees should respond in specific common situations so there’s no question as to what’s expected of them.

These are some of the tools I’ve implemented at ONTRAPORT to provide clarity to my team to avoid disappointment all around and keep everyone moving in the same direction. It’s up to every entrepreneur to learn how to communicate the silent expectations that fill her head -- and once you start thinking this way, you’ll start to come up with your own ways to provide clarity. After all, the only thing truly worse than provoking disappointment is knowing you could have prevented it.

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At 27, She Unexpectedly Became the CEO of Her Family Business. Now She is the Leader of a $120 Million Company.