Today we learn about setting proper expectations in entrepreneurship.

One of the most frustrating characteristics of entrepreneurs is their failing to properly set expectations. “Properly” is the key word: your expectations must be both concrete and discreet. Make sure that you make things clear, but don’t feel like you have to tell all. To do that, you need to start with effective communication through frequent and open dialogue—in other words, don’t push people’s buttons.

I recall one particularly grueling trip that I took to Birmingham, England. I never had a minute to adjust to the jet lag, and at the end of a long week, I was way beyond exhaustion. The trip had hit me like a hurricane. Finally, after boarding the plane for the flight home, I relaxed.

I comfortably settled into my cushy, business-class seat with finger-tip controls for adjusting lumbar support, leg angle, and chair tilt. In front of me was my personal TV/Game Boy/movie screen. I sank into rest mode, but the stupid buttons weren’t working. I pushed at them like crazy, but nothing happened. There was no movement. Just as my frustration got almost to the point of calling the flight attendant, I glanced at the guy sitting next to me. He, too, looked frustrated, but his face was tinged with a grin as he looked straight back at me.

“You’ve been pushing my buttons!” he said.

He had been sleeping. I had mistakenly taken hold of his controls, and all this time I had been pushing his buttons. I had him going up, down, sideways, squeezing, sitting forward, and laying back—in short, I was rocking his world.

Tantamount to pushing the wrong buttons is allowing a lack of communication among those closest to you about what you are doing. You must frequently dialogue about your plans, how the business is faring, and how both of those will impact those who matter to you and to your enterprise. Be concrete with your descriptions.

Entrepreneurship can be a wild ride. You must be open about where that ride is taking you. Do not discount this small courtesy. Clear communication up front and along the way is vital for all your relationships, be they with your significant other, family, partner, banker, customer, or self.

Be careful about how much you articulate your ups and downs, though. This is where discretion comes in. Early in my marriage, I was going to school and had not done very well on a significant test. After a long and frustrating day on campus, I walked through the door. The first thing out of my mouth was:

“I’m going to fail this class and get kicked out of college.”

Funny thing, this declaration had the exact opposite effect from what I had hoped for. Instead of soothing me with sympathy, my wife spiraled into panic mode.

“What are we going to do now? I’ll have to make adjustments. Maybe I had better stop school and start working. Maybe we both better drop out and get jobs.”

Getting a C-minus on a test was not going to get me kicked out of college. I was just feeling beaten and sorry for myself. In fact, by the end of the semester, I had pulled an A-minus out of that class.

Think about how you set and communicate expectations. Be clear. Be diligent in reporting the progress of your business and don’t keep changing the rules of engagement with those around you. Do not blow small things out of proportion. Doing so will result in a wild emotional ride that will not be fun for anyone involved.

Porter’s Points – Concrete but Discreet

• Who do your rules impact? Keep those people informed. Don’t divulge company secrets or cause undue worry, but do talk about goals, plans, and progress.
• Let yourself cool down before you talk about failure or success. It is unhealthy both for your expectations and for others’ if you make something too dramatic.
• Frequently ask yourself and others what you and they expect from your business. Every time you do, articulate the applicable rules. The best way to keep everybody on the same page is to set specific expectations through your rules and then live by them.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about what you should and shouldn’t risk as an entrepreneur.