Managing Expectations and Messaging

I wish I were not using President Donald J Trump as an exemplar for part of my blog post, as it is not intended for a political discussion, but rather for the CEO and his/her slice of capitalism.

As a CEO, two of the elements of your company that can be (must be?) managed are expectations and messaging. They are intimately related.

As a CEO, you are converting a Vision into a Mission and creating Strategy, Tactics, Objectives in a framework of Values which define a Culture.

Click on this graphic to see it at larger scale. It shows how these things are related. There is both structure and process at work here.

I often find that CEOs are comforted when they are able to see how all of these concepts are related and work together. It proves up the structural elements of your rapidly evolving process.


Managing expectations

No sooner does one identify their Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Tactics than it has to be converted into boots-on-the-ground objectives. This is the first time that individual performance must be confronted with expectations.

If you assign ten objectives to an individual, my 33 years of CEO-ing and eight years of CEO coaching informs me that your very best people will accomplish only sixty percent of their objectives. Same person will have twenty percent of the assigned objectives as work-in-progress and the balance — 20% — will be considered as wrongly assigned or unattainable. This is your very best person.

In the case of President Donald J Trump, “objectives” are identified as “campaign promises.” In chatting with a pal the other day, he challenged me, “Big Red Car, you’re a Trump guy, WTF has the guy actually accomplished that makes you want to support him?”

“I am not a ‘Trump guy’,” said I. “I like the guy’s policies. As to him, chemotherapy. A poison that we take to get rid of a larger toxicity.”

See this. I have been saying the same thing for a long time. I used to call him the Chemoptherapy Candidate back in 2016. For the record, I had long since concluded that the anger of the 2014 mid-terms was the wave he would ride to the nomination and then to the general election victory.

Chemotherapy Party Candidate? Trump

Here are two Candidate Trump promises that are unassailable.

 1. He promised to wipe ISIS off the face of the world. Mission accomplished.

 2. He promised to revise the Veteran’s Administration such that under performers could be fired — mission accomplished — and so that if a vet could not get a timely appointment, he could seek such assistance in the civilian medical world. Again, mission accomplished.

In the case of both ISIS and the VA, these were objectives that the Obama admin said could not be accomplished. President Trump proved them wrong.

I selected those two examples because they were meaningful promises, measurable promises, and ones that were, essentially, apolitical. My friend begrudgingly admitted, “Well, Big Red Car, you’re got me on those two. I admit he promised as much on the campaign trail; and, I admit he got them done. Maybe I need to reconsider my enmity toward him.” [Note: That sentiment lasted less than 8 hours.]

Neither of these things happened overnight. The wiping out of ISIS was announced a little early. Clear now it’s done.

The teaching point is this — a skillful CEO has to make good objectives for subordinates, keep score, and manage expectations.

How do you deal with the issue of one of your best subordinates achieving sixty percent of their objectives? [Remember, I am telling you that is an extraordinary performance.] How do you manage your own and others’ expectations?

The answer is that you begin to realize that 100% compliance is not attainable and you set your sights accordingly.

OK, how about the messaging?

Donald J Trump has already won the messaging war as it relates to the Mueller Special Counsel investigation. I admit to liking Mueller, though I have less respect today watching the arm twisting he engaged in as it relates to peripheral characters.

Here is what I had to say about him last year at the halfway point of his investigation.

Robert Swan Mueller III – Prediction

In general, what I saw and said has been borne out by the report and the current situation.

President Trump had two things to say:

 1. There was no collusion and the Mueller Report would find accordingly.

 2. The Mueller investigation was a witch hunt.

The Mueller Report found no collusion as evidenced by Attorney General Barr’s four page letter.

Because no collusion was found other things happened:

 1. President Trump was made to look both wise and prescient. Being a wise and prescient CEO in the eyes of your board and your management can’t be a bad thing.

 2. President Trump’s credibility was bolstered making his second charge appear more likely.

Winning the messaging war is not the same as creating or finding evidence. One can win a messaging confrontation with such certainty that folks stop paying attention to the next stage.

Image result for images trump

If a team is ahead by 30 points with three minutes to go, it is likely that certain folks will lose interest as the game is already decided. Hell, they may leave to avoid the ensuing traffic jam.

As a CEO, you have to control the message and keep your company informed as to how you see the world, particularly as that thinking evolves. In this manner, the message drives the final outcome while the final outcome is consistent with the evolving message.

In the case of President Trump, he reduced the message to be solely collusion. Why? He knew nobody had colluded with the Russians.

After some time, President Trump’s detractors also realized that neither he nor his campaign had concluded with the Russians — remember we spent almost two years investigating a 90-day campaign.

Every time President Trump shouted, “NO COLLUSION!” he set expectations and controlled the messaging. To oppose him, one had to oppose his message.

When this was ineffective, his detractors pivoted to “obstruction of justice” and then his entire body of work.

[The US Congress has a legitimate duty of oversight — of the US government, including the Executive Branch. What they do not have is a right to pick a target and then scrub down his entire life to find a shortcoming. That is not GOVERNMENT oversight.]

Piling on with the messaging

Therefore when the Attorney General Barr letter announced that Special Counsel Mueller had concluded there was “NO COLLUSION,” it made President Trump look infallible and lent credence to the notion that President Trump was right on everything — therefore, the Mueller investigation must, also, be a witch hunt.

As a side note, Attorney General Barr gave President Trump a huge assist when he noted that Mueller had:

 1. Spent 22 months investigating the Trump campaign (90 day campaign),

 2. Issued 2,800 subpoenas,

 3. Executed 500 search warrants,

 4. Interviewed 500 witnesses,

 5. Investigated 230 communication records,

 6. Undertook 50 pen registers (collection of meta data for calls and emails),

 7. Utilized the services of 40 FBI agents plus intel analysts, forensic accountants, and forensic computer geeks,

 8. Brought on 19 experienced Department of Justice lawyers/prosecutors with world class expertise in the applicable areas of focus, and,

 9. Visited and consulted with 13 foreign governments.

It is difficult to imagine that there is anything about a single breath that the Trump campaign took that was not considered by Mueller and his henchpersons.

As to the ongoing investigations, the White House has already begun to use a bit of humor — “After Bob Mueller’s uber colonoscopy what is Little Adam Schiff going to find? Or Fat Jerry Nadler?”

[Who is with me in a GoFundMe for a new belt for Jerry Nadler? Ping me.]

Related image

The answer is not much.

Homework assignment

I never assign homework to my CEO clients, but I am going to assign a bit to you.

 1. Identify the critical objectives in your organization.

 2. Identify how you are keeping score on them.

 3. Tell me how you are managing expectations knowing SuperWoman would only accomplish 60% of them.

 4. What are the critical messages from you to — the company, the Board, the world?

 5. Be honest — are you managing them? If so, how? How effectively?

 6. Be shrewd and decide how you can better manage the messaging.

So, dear reader, there you have it. You must control expectations and messaging. Do not allow your sails to flap in the wind. Control them.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.