Drama and Setting Expectations


I just came across another of Seth Godin’s famously brief and pithy blog posts, called Two Ways to Solve a Problem and Provide a Service

His point is that you can deliver with drama, or without.

The first way, with drama, is what I call chest thumping, and I saw it a lot in the 90s. I’ve seen it to a lesser extent since. The idea seemed to be to find any excuse possible to prove to the client that no other competitor could out-work us. 

This meant agreeing to nearly impossible deadlines, saying yes to almost every client demand not matter how unreasonable, and overworking the team in a culture of “whatever it takes to get it done.”

And when there was no time crunch or crisis, often one was manufactured in the name of over-delivering on a deadline.

This was all done so that we could then thump our chests and effectively peacock to the client about how we sacrificed, toiled, slaved, and pulled the vaunted all-nighter(s) To Get The Job Done Because We Care More Than Anyone Else On Earth, Mr. Client!

If you didn’t buy into the culture of Get It Done At All Costs, then you were lazy, unmotivated, not a team player, or simply not cut out for the business.

But here’s the thing: If you’re setting proper, realistic expectations with your clients, actively managing and adjusting those expectations throughout the project lifecycle, and properly managing your scheduling and workflow in the first place, then why are you on a constant diet of crisis management?

Oh, the drama!

Oh, the drama!

It’s not just drama, it’s largely needless drama, which I realize is somewhat redundant.

If you really are managing your business, projects, clients, team, and all the expectations around each of them, then there should be very little ongoing drama. 

Delivery should appear, for the most part, effortless. A smooth client experience means minimizing surprises. A smooth employee experience also means minimizing surprises, like not having to stay until 10pm tonight. And for the next three nights. There should be a steady diet of done - on time and on budget - without a steady diet of drama.

There are times when you do need to bend to accommodate a client. There are special circumstances occasionally where either a mistake was made by you or the client, something unforeseen happened, something was miscommunicated or not communicated, or other adjustments have to be made. Sometimes the client screws up. Sometimes we do. That’s life. It happens.

Sometimes the client simply makes a request that pushes the bounds of what is workable. Often, for very good reasons.

These occasions should be just that: largely occasional. They are opportunities to genuinely help the client out of a bind. 

Constant crisis and drama should not be the way you generally do business. It’s not sustainable. 

If you’re constantly jerking the car all over the road to accommodate one client, you’re potentially screwing yourself, your team, or your organization in your relationships with your other clients whose work is being rescheduled to make the accomodations.

Are you willing to risk the tragedy of losing those clients simply because you’re not setting reasonable, realistic expectations with all your clients at the start and doing what you need to do to manage your workload smoothly?

Is it really worth the chest thumping?

If you’re committed to your clients, be committed to providing a consistently smooth, fantastic, drama free, and enjoyable experience for them. Over deliver a little as often as possible. When they need you to bend, they will have a frame of reference developed and will have a sense that they are in fact making a special request because they need genuinely your help.

Manage The Expectations

It’s very tempting to intake a request or project from a client, look at your schedule, and respond with the earliest humanly possible turnaround. Unless the request literally takes a few minutes to handle, do not make that promise. 

If it only takes a few minutes and really helps the client, by all means bang it out, but don’t train the client that you’ll drop everything several times a day at their whim. You and your client have to have mutual respect for each other’s time.

The bottom line is you want to avoid patterns of crisis and drama, so you need to pick your spots. This rarely has to mean giving the client a flat-out “no.” Often, the best answer is “I can’t do that without affecting other clients, but here’s what I can do, does that work for you?” and way more often than not the client will agree that this solution is workable for them too. 

At minimum, you’re likely well on your way to collaborating with the client on a solution.

Because you have managed your schedule and workflow properly, you will often be able to accommodate, help the client, build trust, and further the relationship. All with minimal drama.

Ideally, you may get a great story to tell, maybe even an opportunity to get a great quote or testimonial from your client about how helpful you were in this crisis and how wonderful it is to work with you.

Now the client is thumping your chest, which is way more powerful.

Agree? Or do you see chest thumping and drama serving a higher purpose? Drop some perspective on me in the comments.