How Do Expectations Influence Organizational Behavior?

Driving across North Carolina last week I heard an interview with Wes Moore, author of, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.

The book, set in Baltimore, was inspired by the author, learning of another Wes Moore (same name, same town, same neighborhood, and same age), whose life journey has led him toward crime, and eventually imprisonment…a path quite different from the author’s. When asked about the influence of the environment on what happens to kids as they get older, his response was that it’s less about environment and more about expectations. This insight has led a number of colleges to choose it as a ‘common book’ for their 2011 incoming freshmen.

Then it hit me. Some organizations, like the other Wes Moore, are often hostage to low expectations…and behaving in ways that high expectations wouldn’t allow: affirming the status quo, sticking to the tried and true, arguing over all things inconsequential, denying reality, etc.

Over the past year I have been working with a number of groups that are retrenching, cutting budgets, restructuring, merging, etc. While such steps may be necessary and may need to be accomplished expeditiously, it’s only half the job; without an equal commitment to affirming a clear and compelling longer term vision—what’s the point? I’m finding that it’s the organizations that couple this realignment/rightsizing work with the articulation of a compelling vision that can then turn to their community with newly-found strength and reaffirmed commitment. This critical second half of the work can get lost in the near term fight for mere survival. Leaders must ask, what makes our survival important, what are we offering the future that no other organization can? As Peter Sellars once said to me, “survival may be necessary, but it’s not very damn interesting.”

PS: A big shout out to Jesse Rosen, CEO of the League of American Orchestras for his recent talk where he makes three straightforward timely recommendations. While he was speaking to an orchestra audience, the message is on target for all organizations: Take responsibility for your true financial condition; realign your work in support of community needs; and foster internal creativity. If we followed this simple and sage advice, the horizon might be nearer and brighter than we’re allowing ourselves to imagine. Thanx Jesse!!

One response to “How Do Expectations Influence Organizational Behavior?

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