Expectations are a funny thing. They can be good in that they set forth an objective measure for expected performance, goals, and standards of conduct. On the other hand, they can turn bad if they are unreasonable or prone to differing or subjective interpretations.
Watching the NBA draft last week, I was struck by how these young men (most of whom are still teenagers) are immediately saddled with expectations: expectations from fans, expectations from the team and its front office, expectations from NBA analysts and media members, and countless others. Without even having played a second of professional basketball, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram (who went first and second in the draft to Philadelphia and Los Angeles, respectively) have already been anointed the saviors of 76ers and Lakers basketball for the future. My Boston Celtics selected Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick and were almost universally criticized, by fans and pundits alike, for “reaching” for Brown rather than selecting a better talent at that spot or consummating a trade for the pick. And on and on the analysis went with every subsequent player selected.
Whether it’s the NBA or any other professional sport, you always hear of the number-one-overall picks who ended up being busts and never amounted to anything professionally. With respect to the NBA, these names include Greg Oden, Kwame Brown, Michael Oliwakandi, and the list goes on. Then there are those generational talents with unquestionable Hall of Fame credentials such as LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan, to name a few. But what about those who are very good, solid NBA players?
Take player A, for example. Last year he averaged 21.4 points a game and 8.4 rebounds and had a Player Efficiency Rating (or PER, a statistic that attempts to boil down a player’s overall contribution into one number) of 22.22. He was injured for a good portion of last year, but these numbers are in line with his statistics the prior year as well. Player B averaged 21.2 points a game and 6.8 rebounds and had a PER of 26.11 (higher than player A due to exceptional defensive performance).
Player A is Blake Griffin, the number one overall pick in 2009. Player B is Kawhi Leonard, the 15th overall pick in 2011. Both are undoubtedly great NBA players. Yet, Leonard is considered a “steal” at his draft slot, having outperformed expectations, as well as a future cornerstone of the Spurs (or another team if he bolts when he is a free agent). Griffin is by no means a disappointment and is still one of the top players in the game, but it can be legitimately argued that Leonard is the better overall player. Toss in the fact that the reigning two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was selected six spots after Griffin, and it’s no surprise that Griffin, despite putting up gaudy numbers, has been criticized for not meeting certain lofty expectations.
What employers can learn from NBA’s approach to expectations
Expectations, whether right or wrong, set the baseline for every relationship, whether it be in the realm of professional athletics or in the context of an employer and an employee. Even if an employee doesn’t have an actual written agreement, expectations are often set forth in the company’s policies, manuals, and procedures. It goes without saying that employers need to ensure that these written policies are clear, unambiguous, appropriately disseminated, and updated as needed.
An employee’s expectations, however, are often reinforced through the employee’s communications with managers, supervisors, and/or human resource representatives as well as through the course of conduct with the employer. It’s not enough that the written policies and procedures provide for a specific type of mechanism. It’s equally important that employers train supervisors, managers, and HR people on how to implement the written policies in an objective and consistent manner and that these individuals are aware of the proper way to handle an inquiry or question about company policies, benefits, or procedures.
Not only does this consistent treatment assist a company in defending against applicable federal and state discrimination, retaliation, and leave laws, but employers should be aware that in some states a duty of good faith and fair dealing exists in connection with every contract. In some states this contract can simply be based on the employment relationship itself or on handbooks or other written policies (particularly if there is no valid disclaimer). In such circumstances, an employee can file a claim based on the reasonable expectation of some benefit (whether it be through written policies, communications with supervisors, or even the general course of conduct with the employer), including for alleged promised compensation, bonus, promotion, or other employment-related benefits.
Therefore, employers with clear and consistent messages about their company policies greatly minimize the risk of claims based on an employee’s purported reasonable expectations. So it’s important that you make sure everyone in your operation, from management on down, is on the same page and that you also consider implementing procedures or spot-checks to identify any inconsistencies before they become a problem. And for all you sports fans out there, let’s try to keep our expectations as reasonable as possible, particularly when it comes to these young draftees and their potential immediate impact. If all else fails, there’s always next year.