Do you have an Ashton Agar in your office? How to deal with managing unrealistic expectations

The world of cricket was given a shock last night when the youngest member of the Australian team, 19-year-old Ashton Agar, made his Test debut and walked off the pitch with a history-making 98 runs.

But while the country is celebrating the arrival of what is sure to be another star player, there are some bigger concerns about Agar’s performance at hand – and they have more to do with business owners than you may realise.

Agar’s 98 runs have set a precedent for the young player, who is now being fawned over by the sporting industries in both hemispheres. No doubt he will be expected to do great things again.

And that’s exactly the problem.

Steve Shepherd, group director of human resources and recruitment group Randstad, points out this type of thing can happen in business a lot. The young buck comes in and lands a huge account – and then creates more problems for himself in the process.

“All the parallels to business leadership are here in this story,” he says. “This type of success puts a lot of pressure on people, not only as a manager, but for them as individuals. How do you help them deal with that?”

Coaching, Shepherd says, is critical. Not only so the young star performer in the office can do better, but also so they have realistic expectations about what they hope to achieve. For the vast majority, it takes decades of practice to do their jobs well.

“With a lot of Generation-Y who get success very quickly, they believe they’re really good and don’t need coaching, because their natural talent can carry them through that.

“As a manager or business leader, you need to have the ability to identify and recognise what is done well, but also still identify opportunities for improvement.”

Shepherd points out despite the praise for Agar, the Australian cricket team isn’t likely to pop the champagne just yet. Soon they’ll be showing him video replays of his performance, showing why he wasn’t able to make a century.

Unfortunately, this is much harder at a business level.

“You can’t replay the video of your last sales visit with a client,” he says.

The key to all of this is managing expectations, Shepherd argues. A great result from a youngster is a great result no matter which way you cut it, but expecting them – and for that matter, the rest of your team – to replicate those results regularly is going too far.

“You can put unrealistic expectations on star performers,” he says. “So how do you protect them from that?”

The answer is making sure the person in question can learn from those who are more experienced – and making them realise they aren’t the ‘be all and end all’. They may have had one great result, which should be rewarded, but experienced players are going to turn over those results more consistently.

“I watched an interview with Agar and he seemed much more humble than I thought someone in that position can be. He sounded like he’s excited to be around the players who he feels are legends.

“Perhaps in business, those things are not as obvious. But those opportunities for lessons should still be there.”

Read SmartCompany’s feature today on how Cricket Australia can rebrand the Australian Test team.


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