Two summers ago, I spent some time in Georgia. It was a different universe than the crowded streets and fast pace of New York City — where I live now. Laying down roots and connecting with people was as easy as breathing.
Walking through the aisles of a grocery store, a stock clerk would ask, “How are you doing today?”
When I looked back, he had stopped working and was waiting for my response.
In New York, I am lucky to get a nod.
This openness led to a very important conversation at my favorite Italian restaurant.
“It’s Wednesday,” she said.
“Yeah,” I nodded in agreement.
“Wednesday is Eggplant Parmesan. It is to die for,” she paused briefly looking for a reaction, “You have to have it,” she said with enthusiasm.
It was early evening and the sun was beginning to set, casting rays of light across her curly white hair. She sits down at the bar stool next to me, “My name is Patty,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Steve,” I said, shaking her hand.
“I wasn’t kidding about the Parmesan. Jesse, tell him the Parmesan is great.”
Jesse briefly stops stocking the glassware in preparation for the coming dinner rush. With a smile, he said, “It is really good Steve. We usually run out of it because we only make one tray.”
“Alright, I’ll have that, thanks Jesse.” He enters the order to the kitchen, and returned to his work.
“What do you do Steve,” asked Patty.
“I am a consultant, I work with teams to help them write software.”
“I used to work in an office too,” she said enthusiastically, “Back before I retired.”
“Oh, nice. What did you do,” I asked, grabbing my drink.
“Well, I was a manager for a long time. I used to help bring up folks right out of highschool and show them the ropes.”
“What did that look like,” I asked.
“For some of the kids, this was their first job. They has some really interesting ideas — all sorts of things that weren’t okay to do in an office,” pausing to order a drink, “Jesse, may I have a glass of red?”
A few other regulars took their places at bar around us, beginning their usual banter.
Taking her wine from Jesse, “Thanks dear,” she continued, “Whenever I offered someone a job, I asked them write two lists, and bring them in on their first day.”
“Lists,” I asked with skepticism.
“The lists would contain what they thought I could expect from them, and what they could expect from me. That first morning we would have a discussion about each point,” pausing to take a sip of her drink. She continued, “Some would write impossibly difficult rules for themselves, while others would use it as an opportunity to make their lives easier.”
Intrigued I leaned in, to listen closer.
“‘You can fire me if I am late’ is one that sticks out in my mind,” she said with a chuckle, “But so is
I don’t want to work before 10am. Obviously that wasn’t going to work, so we reset her expectations.”
We stopped our conversation, as the aroma of roasted garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil drifted through the air.
“Once we agreed what was expected, I would have them sign both lists. The lists would be stored in my desk. If there was ever a day where things got out of hand, I would bring out the list and remind them what they signed up for on that first day.”
That conversation with Patty sticks in my mind, I think about it whenever I start a new project or have to set expectations with someone. Patty taught me that setting expectations on day one, allows everyone to know how to win.
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