Relentlessly Lowering Expectations:

We always compare performance on a relative basis. “Well, it’s better than it was yesterday…”

Toddlers, for example, seem like geniuses compared to the babies they used to be.

Some people around us have embraced a strategy of always lowering expectations so that their mediocre effort is seen as acceptable. Over time, we embrace the pretty good memo or the decent leadership moment, because it’s so much better than we feared.

And some? Some relentlessly raise expectations, establishing a standard that it’s hard to imagine exceeding. And then they do.

If you’ve been cornered into following, working with or serving someone in the first group, an intervention can be rewarding. For you and for the person trapped in this downward cycle.

Raising our expectations is a fine way to raise performance as well.

(Via Seth’s Blog)

I get Seth’s point, but I argue that he is missing two huge constituencies: those who don’t know yesterday and those who know they need to do better than yesterday.

In my field, the first are an ever diminishing group of organizations that think their cybersecurity blindness coupled with a lack of known breach means they’re “ok”. Maybe their business risk allows them their naïve approach. Time and experience will eventually come to call. 

Then there are the other group, those that know that what they’ve been doing (or not doing) is no longer sufficient. They’re deciding to make a change to improve. Maybe they’re asking for outside help. Maybe what they see in front of them seems insurmountable in time, resources, money, and patience.

For this second group, being better than yesterday can be motivating and empowering.

I agree with Seth that lowering expectations to make middling effort seem effective is bad. It’s always eventually self-defeating. Good metrics, analytics, and reporting addresses this in all but the softest of skills and sciences.

Yet, sometimes, the appearance of success will breed success where there was little or none. Don’t discount the placebo effect.