Managing Perceptions

by Krishna on September 2, 2009

Suppose you are about to sign a contract with a company and you send the contract to your lawyer to see if everything is okay with it. You get a reply back saying that the contract is perfect and you don’t need to make any changes. You later get a bill for the time spent by the lawyer. What would be your reaction?

I have a feeling that you would be disappointed and perhaps a little upset at the lawyer, wondering why you would need to pay him if he couldn’t find anything wrong. It is unlikely that you would accept that the document was perfect. You may suspect that the lawyer was incompetent or that he was not totally honest about reviewing your document in detail.

Now, for a second, consider that the lawyer did do his job properly. Perhaps he had a checklist with 50 items that he compares every contract with. And for some reason, this particular contract passed every item on the checklist. And so he had no reason to object to the document. Apparently, the lawyer of the other company also knew his job properly and had prepared an even-handed contract.

With this knowledge, your anger may be a little assuaged, but you are still unconvinced. Surely nothing can be perfect in this world. Surely there should be some mistake, some loophole, some trap that the lawyer must be missed. You make a mental note to try some other lawyer the next time round.

Suppose that instead of having an “All’s Clear” reply, you had a different lawyer who sent you a list of 5 items that had to be fixed. Unknown to you, the lawyer approaches every contract with a question, “How do we bend this contract into my client’s favor, even if it is useless to him?” With experience, he can raise all kinds of “questions” within a couple of minutes and still bill you a considerable sum.

But what you don’t know doesn’t matter to you. You seem to have got some results for what you paid. Even though the first lawyer was actually more ethical, hard-working and diligent, in your perception, the second lawyer is much more productive and provides more value for money.

The moral of the story is that perceptions matter a lot more than you think. If you cannot demonstrate value for your work, people will question how much effort you are putting in, even if you are working hard and sincerely.

Output matters. If your output does not seem to match with the effort you say you are putting in, people will question your effort. This is one reason why code refactoring can be a challenge in some organizations, because the effects and benefits are difficult to understand and visualize.

Frequent deliverables and builds help. They show progress. They show activity. Functionality that may take a long time to achieve should be broken down into smaller, faster goals, even if the total time may be longer. This allows people to see achievements and keep the faith.

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