Have you ever seen the “You had one job!” joke? It’s usually a picture like the one of the sign above, with a crazy error like “Please slow drively.” Or like spelling “STOP” S-O-T-P, or hanging a stair railing upside-down. Google it and you’ll see thousands of examples, because apparently there are a lot of people who can’t seem to do the one thing asked of them.
And that’s the first thing I’d encourage you to do if you want to to be successful in your career. Do what’s asked of you. Meet expectations. Hit the target. That alone will make you stand out.
But I believe there’s a higher goal than just doing your “one job.” Instead of just meeting expectations, you can make it your goal to exceed them. That’s where the joy is. And it’s where lasting impact can be found.
I’ve spent the past 40+ years trying to exceed expectations. My model for it was my dad. He has gifts, but he’s not an overly gifted person. But for my whole life, I’ve watched him go above and beyond what others expect of him, or what they even think is possible. He’s received recognition for his hard work and consistency, sure. But more importantly, he’s received fulfillment and joy because of his efforts. I decided a long time ago that I wanted that, too. So I work hard to be an “and then some” person.
I never really go into a project thinking about how I can meet people’s expectations. I always ask, “How can I meet their expectations and surprise them in a positive way?” Where’s the surprise when I speak to a group? Where’s the surprise when I meet with a young leader? Where’s the surprise in a book that I write?
Why do I do this? Because I love it! I get great delight from positively surprising people. Plus, they’re much more likely to invite me back to speak, or to read my next book.
Here are three “don’ts” and one “do” if you want to consistently exceed expectations:
Don’t rely on your reputation.
I think that when we’re successful, our greatest temptation is to enjoy living on the past. We’ve gained a reputation for doing great things, and it’s really easy to “rest on our laurels,” so to speak. We forget how we got our reputation and start putting our energy into guarding it, instead of growing it anew. But we got our reputation by producing, and that’s how we need to build on it. Don’t just protect your reputation for good work. Do better work.
Don’t rely on your relationships.
I’ve noticed that this is a real problem for a lot of people. For whatever reason, when they don’t meet or exceed expectations, their response is to play the “relationship card.” They say, “I know I didn’t do what I needed to do, but after all, we’re friends.”
Relationships are definitely important in life and can carry us through a lot of hard times. But this kind of thing is an abuse of a relationship, and it will suffer as a result. When you rely on a relationship instead of your efforts, you not only don’t exceed expectations, you don’t meet them either.
Don’t expect unearned respect.
We should never try to demand respect. I believe that respect must be earned daily. And the only way to do that is to continually produce and do more than is expected. I believe that once we understand that respect is not a given, we work harder and start each day with a clean slate. We don’t get to demand respect today because of what we achieved yesterday. Every day needs a fresh commitment to exceeding expectations.
Do ask questions, give your best, and ask questions again.
When I have a speaking engagement coming up, I ask a number of important questions. I want to know who will be there. What does the leader want his or her people to get out of it? How is morale? The answers to these questions help me to tailor my message so that it has the highest impact. It helps me discover what the expectations are, so I know how high to aim to exceed them.
When you receive an assignment, first make sure you understand what all the expectations are. You do this by asking questions on the front end until you know your goals. Then give your best, aiming higher than expected, and creating a positive surprise.
Finally, after the assignment is completed, ask how you did. I do that with my speaking. I ask the person who brought me in to speak whether my talk was what they desired. And of course, I’m hoping they say that it was more than expected.
By asking after the task is done, you’ll get good feedback and discover whether you succeeded in exceeding expectations. This helps you grow and learn how to better serve the leader in the future.
Anyone can exceed expectations once in awhile. The trick is to do it consistently. When you avoid relying on reputation, relationships, or respect, and instead ask the right questions, you can establish the habit of exceeding expectations. This will provide joy and fulfillment. Plus, it will probably give you recognition, which only opens the door to more opportunities to impact your world.