How to Ditch Unreasonable Expectations To Build a Champion Team

Assuming that anybody can perform as well as the next person can hinder you and your business.

Micah C/

To a high degree, the expectations you set determine how much people on your team will achieve. The idea that anybody can reach the top as long as they put in the work is the song of capitalism. However, assuming that anybody can perform as well as the next person can hinder you and your business. People will have different skills, knowledge and experience at different points in their lives, meaning they have different needs for talent development. To help people reach their full potential, set expectations based on where they are, not where you think they should be.

All Teams Aren't Created Equal

If you're a football fan, you know the New England Patriots have an incredible record. They've had the most Super Bowl appearances (11) and have won six times. By contrast, the Detroit Lions stand as the first team to record an 0-16 season, and they're one of only four teams that have never even appeared in a Super Bowl.

What would happen if you expected the Lions to do what the Patriots do? You'd probably end up pretty disappointed. Yet, business leaders often assume that different departments or individuals can perform at a level they're simply not experienced or equipped for.

Rather than applying the same standard to everybody across the board, consider each team member or department individually. If you've got a few Patriot players, they're capable of landing the bigger accounts, producing more, or coming up with the most innovative concepts. They won't be challenged enough if you give them less to manage, slow the pace or give them easy assignments.

But what if you've got some Lions who still need to build their record? Handing them Patriot-level expectations can be demoralizing because they don't have the skills, resources or experience yet to get a win. They'll do better if you start with the expectation of having a winning season versus winning the entire season.

So if you're doing training around any kind of leadership, recognize that everybody's an individual and ask yourself, "How do I meet everybody where they are?" It's all about acknowledging that if the rungs on the ladder are too far apart, there's no way anybody can climb. You can envision and have faith that everybody will get to the top with the right support, but if somebody is on rung one and somebody else is on rung 10, a leader has to recognize they are in two completely different places.

Put Time Where It's Needed

In many businesses, leaders create talent development models that are one-size-fits-all — for example, a standardized 6-week mandatory onboarding program. But this approach fails to accommodate the different strengths and weaknesses that might mean an employee needs more or less support. Rather than give every member of the team the exact same amount of time, design your development model or mentoring system so you have the flexibility to let your stronger players get right onto the field and give your weaker players more practice plays.

Keep in mind, too, that different individuals and departments will have on and off seasons. At Merchants Fleet, our Q4 is our business's peak time of year. We're heavily focused on operations during that time. Come January, though, we switch gears more toward marketing. So think about what the demands are at different points and make sure you're putting your attention where it's most appropriate.

Some Things You Can't Do — And That's Ok

Any employee who can bring a lot of skills or expertise to the table has a high value. But nobody's going to be an expert in everything, and two employees in the same department can have their niche skills: One of your marketers might be a phenomenal visual designer, whereas another might know social media strategies backward and forward.

With this mix, don't set the unrealistic expectation that everybody has to be a jack of all trades or wear a thousand hats. Instead, clearly communicate to your employees that it's all right to be great at certain things and less great at others. Acknowledge where people can improve, but also find ways to let them win with what comes naturally to them.

With Biases Gone, You're Positioned To Win

No matter what business league you play in, you'll have senior and rookie members on your team. Those team members are also going to have different roles. Instead of expecting everybody to use the same skills or information or perform at the same level or pace, acknowledge where each individual or department is at and be flexible. The more you can set your biases aside and meet everybody where they are, the higher your odds of getting them to become true champions.

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