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Setting expectations is part of the relationship building process–whether between a boss and a subordinate, or a Lean advocate and the rest of the company.

One of the things that sets the human mind apart from that of animals is our ability to look into the future. That is generally a good thing, but there is one challenge that can come from this. When people look forward, they set expectations in their mind. When reality does not match up with this premonition of the future, anxiety, anger, or a host of other negative emotions can set in.

In general business, part of a boss’s job is setting expectations for her team. She must be clear and fair, and must manage the expectations she sets. When done well, setting expectations reinforces the relationship with her subordinates. They know what is expected of them, and can choose to act accordingly. They also know in advance how success is defined, so they aren’t surprised later.

In Lean, setting expectations about the outcome of a project or an entire implementation is equally important. When Lean is part of a company’s culture, setting these expectations is just part of every manager’s job.

But when a company is just starting Lean, or if there is not general consensus on how it should be applied, it falls on the Lean advocates to not only ‘sell’ Lean to the organization, but also to set expectations on what Lean will deliver. Overpromising can create a minefield that can easily derail Lean efforts.

When setting expectations about what Lean can achieve, it is important to do exactly what leaders do with their team members. Evaluate their skills and potential, and set expectations accordingly. That just means you probably should not promise Toyota-style Lean results when you are just getting started.

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