Surprises are contextually good. When you think of the term “surprise,” historically in your life, the experiences are usually positive. A surprise trip or a visit from loved one or a gift. When someone says they have a surprise for you, it’s almost always associated with a smile or smirk and the context is positive. Most of us love surprises because of this.
At work, we have come to replace the positive connotation of surprises with negative ones. First, positive surprises simply do not happen very often, so the ‘n’ is quite low. Second, the negative ones far outnumber the positive ones. We typically hear of someone leaving the company, a boss or peer being terminated, someone getting promoted and another not, a new strategy or plan (every year), or just changing expectations without communicating them.
At work, we have now naturalized our immune systems to ‘expect the unexpected’ and treat these events with apathy. As a leader, it can be a worthwhile task to think of last week and consider what surprises, positive or negative, your team went through. How were the positive ones celebrated or just even communicated? How about the negative ones?
How about this week? Have you thought about what is going to happen that might be a negative surprise? I argue that it is management’s explicit role to navigate through the highs and lows of business and the environment of the workplace by considering change events in the context of surprises. A simple way to appreciate this fact is to ask your team what surprised them last week (or last month). I bet you will be surprised by their answer.