Erja Klemola
Aug 18, 2014
Posted in category: 2014 Member Articles

Avoiding resistance to change by managing expectations

For some odd reason, while functions such as Customer Service and Sales have understood the power of Managing Expectations, ICT Management seem trail years behind. As customers we all know, that what we receive must match the expectations we had in order for us to be happy; wrong expectations lead to dissatisfaction whether the expectation comes from within you or from an outside source.

We have numerous possibilities to set the expectations right: strategy info, management newsletters, project kick-offs, info sessions, system demos, daily operations and communication but still we rarely utilize those moments for making a conscious effort to ease the customers’ minds. We may use system demo sessions to demonstrate the system functionality instead of painting a vivid picture of what the employees’ future will look and feel like. (When I speak about the end users in this article, I mean anyone affected by any project.)

So first, paint a realistic picture.

In order to succeed, the picture of the future painted in the first minutes of the change project must comply with the future that will eventually emerge. The project scope is the end users expectation. It’s then the job of the project/ change leader to make sure that it does or inform about the change in the expectation as soon a change in scope occurs. Science historian James Burke advices to ask the following questions repeatedly:

“If [enter your change here] is going to happen / be taken into use, would you like it / use it? If not, why not?” (McRaney, 2014)

Once you have everyone’s answer to that simple question, you then start to manage the project according to the reply and possibly direct expectations towards a more accepted future. Easy, right?

But what else can you do?

According to research by Stacie Petter, the task of managing expectations requires User involvement, Leadership and Trust (Petter, 2008). The more detailed list of actions (picture 1) reveals that most of the work happens together with the users, so applying only leadership strategies from above is not going to do the task. The users need to feel that they succeeded in the project; not the leaders of the project, but the users.



Picture 1 – Source:

The psychological phenomenon behind the fact, that users who themselves can enjoy the success of the project, feel happier about the whole process, is a Consistency bias (Psychlopedia, 2014). This bias is a form of memory bias, where a person changes his/hers opinion about the event he/she just went through based on the feelings he/she has right now. So if the end users feel that they succeeded in the project, they are more likely to feel great about the end result than if they were only in the receiving end. This works for school projects (Safer, Levine & Drapalski 2014) as well as any other project you may find yourself in.

So what you need to do, is paint a realistic and vivid picture of the future and then make the journey a happy one for everyone. The advice applies to all projects from system implementations to changes in device policies, processes or even outsourcing situations. The user, the one affected, needs to feel that he/she knows what’s going to happen and is the one succeeding. This article listed a few simple steps to follow; if you find more, please add them as comments!

-Erja Klemola



McRaney, D. (2014, March). YANSS podcast Episode 20.

Petter, S. (2008). Managing user expectations on software projects: Lessons from the trenches.International Journal of Project Management, 26(7), 699-770.

Psychlopedia. (2014, 07 23). Retrieved from

Safer, Levine, & Drapalski. (2014, 07 23). Distortion in Memory for Emotions: The Contributions of Personality and Post-Event Knowledge. Retrieved from



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