A Friday thought on expectation setting.

How do I know what you want if you don’t tell me?

The answer is, I’ll make an assumption, and that assumption will be based on my previous experiences.

Last week we looked at self-fulfilling prophecies and how your expectation of someone’s performance can subconsciously influence their performance.  https://www.bits-team.com/2017/06/22/a-friday-thought-on-self-fulfilling-prophecies/  If you expect someone to perform badly, then they are more likely to do so.  While we may be doing this on a subconscious level, so many of us fail to communicate our expectation on a conscious level.

If you fail to set expectation at the start of a task you are perhaps leaving expectation setting to chance, or setting expectation at a default level set by previous performance of similar tasks.  Although it may sound obvious, it pays to tell someone that you would like a good job.  While we can reasonably assume that everyone tries their best to do a good job, if they have a clear vision of what you think a good job looks like, they are more likely to meet your expectation.  This is particularly important when managing visiting contractors.  Your standards for quality, safety and performance may be very different to other locations where your contractors have worked.  You may have taken a great deal of time and effort to establish minimum performance standards in your contract, however, the person arriving at your site is not likely to have read or even seen the document.  Think where this person may last have worked.  Maybe the last client they worked for prized a timely completion above working safely.  Maybe their last client asked them to cut corners to reduce cost.  Maybe this is what they assume you want from the contract.  There are many companies out there who have standards which are lower than yours.  Some people do always want the lowest cost option and some people put cost and production above safety.  So, stating that you want the best quality materials, that a quality job is more important than finishing early and above all else you want your contactor to stop work if they notice something unsafe, can be a very powerful thing.

Think of the attitudes and values a visiting contractor may have inherited from another site.

I once asked a visiting contractor why no one from his company had ever posted a safety observation in our safety post box.  He told me that he was once banned from a site because he raised a safety concern, so he never recorded any safety observations on any site.  However astounding it is to learn that some site managers will ban people for raising a safety concern, which is a direct breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act incidentally, it does illustrate the attitudes and values that your visiting contractors might inherit from other sites.

If you regularly utilise contract services and you don’t have a procedure for expectation setting when they visit your site, I urge you to consider developing one.  It doesn’t have to be an onerous process, however by establishing a standard and ensuring all your team members understand the requirement, you can ensure that your visiting contractors are always set to work with a clear expectation of what is required.  Assign a responsible person for liaising with the contractor, get this person to provide a pre-work briefing that outlines the expectation for quality, safety, schedule and welfare.  Invite the contractors to offer suggestions for improvement, ask them what they feel about your welfare facilities, ask them their opinion of your site.  Why should we do this?  Let’s empathise for a moment.  If you turn up at a site, you have no prior experience of the team or the technology, you are bound to be a little apprehensive.  The site representative tells you all you need to know, assures you that your safety is the main priority, then asks you what you think of the site and whether things could be improved.  How would you feel about that site?  Even if the work wasn’t too pleasant, you would surely leave that location thinking it is a good site, a nice place to work.  So if you form an opinion of a site as a good site, you will want to work there.  If you want to work there, you will naturally want to perform a good job.  If your expectation is that you will enjoy working there, and the client’s expectation is that you will do a good job, all the conditions are set for a good quality, safe job.

None of this should detract from the normal requirement to establish a safe system of work.  It also does not mean that you can’t hold your contractors to account.  However, by introducing this simple element of behavioural management as an addition to your existing contractor management processes, you are improving the performance of your wider team.

When you have a contractor visit your site, always imagine that their last job was changing a lamp in a remote car park on their own.  Never assume that they understand your business, your hazards and your procedures.  Do not assume this even if this contractor has worked for you before.  Some contractors will work with over 150 clients a year.  To assume they will remember your safety rules, your site speed limit or your emergency procedures is a little optimistic.  However, they will remember if you are a good or bad site.

Always imagine yourself in the position of a contractor.

So now imagine the world of a contractor.  You have had a failure of equipment in your process plant.  You have called up the supplier to whom you awarded a maintenance and emergency response contract.  They commit to honouring your 24 hour call out guarantee.  They call one of their employees who is on another job in Bristol.  Tomorrow he is scheduled to work in Southampton.  He is instructed to forget the Southampton job and instead drive to your site in Norwich.  His evening in a Bristol hotel followed by a 1-2 hour drive to work in the morning, has just been replaced by an evening on the road followed by a search for digs in Norwich late at night.  The next morning he drives to your site.  What thoughts would you like to be in his mind?  He will undoubtedly feel a little put out.  His plans have been turned on their head.  His relaxed evening became a more stressful evening battling traffic and trying to find accommodation.  However, all this will be viewed more positively if he knows he is going to work at a nice site.  If the last time he attended your site you asked his views on what could be improved, and you actually implemented changes based on his suggestion, he might feel happy to change his plans to help you.  If last time he worked on your site it was a hot day and you sent out for some chilled bottles of water and brought them to his job site, he might feel he is going to a site where he will be appreciated.  Now imagine how he would feel if you actually phoned him personally to thank him for his support and told him not worry about finding a hotel because you have booked him into a local hotel at your discounted rate.  I reckon he would feel more inclined to perform a good job.

All this is part of expectation setting.  By going the extra mile and helping your contractor, you are letting them know that you expect them to perform a good job.  You are also setting their expectation that they will have a good visit and perform a good job.  You don’t have to roll out the red carpet and give them a fanfare when they arrive, but little touches that really cost nothing, can make a big difference.

It takes more than just being nice.

Now you may be reading this article and thinking, yes I know, being nice to people is good, you get more with a carrot than a stick.  However, as always there is some significant behavioural science behind this practice, in addition to the theory of reciprocity.  That is the science of memory and how it works.  We have long term and short term memory.  In the simplest terms, everything we experience passes through our short term memory.  Things we pay attention to get committed to our long term memory.  Theoretically, everything committed to our long term memory can in the future be recalled.  In the midst of this we have working memory, these are things that we are currently concentrating on.  These can come from our long term memory or outside environment.  Original studies suggested that we can hold about 7 items in our working memory at any one time.  More recent studies suggest it is more like 4 items with the others held in a peripheral zone where they can be more readily called upon.  So for an analogy, let’s liken this to having seven files out of the filing cabinet, but only four of them open on your desk at the moment.  Or, if you have a 21st century brain, 7 files are open and four are on your screen at the moment.  You can readily call up the other files that are open, but files that are not open take some digging to locate.  So our aim is to get our key priorities into the working memory of our team.  For our regular team this is achieved by establishing a culture where this is the norm.  However, our visiting contractors cannot be expected to share our culture.  As we saw earlier, some of them work on over 100 different sites a year.  They cannot simply switch between these cultures and operating modes.  This makes our pre-work briefing even more critical.  It is our opportunity to get the factors critical for success into the working memory of our visitors.  Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for us to remove items that may currently be held in a visitor’s working memory.  So providing a bottle of water, sending out for lunch or booking a hotel is not just being nice in the hope that this will make the contractor happy.  Such actions remove these things from the working memory and allow your contractor to focus on what is required.  Simply providing time for a contractor to make a call home to check on their family or a call to the office to find out where their next job is can mean the difference between them following your procedure or forgetting to refer to it.

So empathise with your contractors, think what might by front of mind for them.  Then give some serious thought to how you can get your success factors in the front of their mind.



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