Yesterday, I was thinking about a trip I made a few years ago. I was honoured to be invited to a media ethics workshop in Virginia. Far more than the extremely useful training I got on media ethics, that trip turned out to be a treasure trove of valuable life lessons. And it started the very moment I arrived.

Our plane landed at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York (commonly called JFK), where I was to catch a connecting flight to Virginia. The walk from the embarkation gate to the customs checkpoint was really long. We walked for ages and ages down an extremely long carpeted corridor. After about five minutes of walking, I started to wonder exactly how long it would take to get there, but just at that minute, I looked up and saw a sign saying, “Twelve More Minutes to Customs Checkpoint”.

I immediately felt better. I knew exactly how much longer I had to walk. I knew exactly how much longer I would have to carry my heavy hand luggage. I could plan my rest stops along the way, and break the twelve-minute hike into nice, manageable, bite-sized strolls. All the frustration I had at the beginning of the walk was gone, just because I now knew when it would end.

Now imagine my pleasure when eight minutes after I saw the first sign, I found myself looking into the friendly, but authoritative face of a United States Customs Officer. Four minutes earlier than promised! I felt so pleased to have saved four minutes that I totally forgot that I had walked for eight long minutes with my heavy leather bag and that my arm felt like they were ready to come out of their sockets

The managers of JFK had employed a simple service delivery strategy called Managing Expectations. By informing the traveller of how long they would have to endure an inconvenience, they made the inconvenience infinitely more bearable, but most importantly, they also gained travellers’ trust and all-important return business by exceeding their promise.

Every person who receives a service has expectations. When you consult a doctor, you expect them to cure your illness. When you pay a plumber, you expect your pipes fixed. When you elect a leader, you expect leadership. And when these people accept your money or your vote, they are making you a promise to provide you with exactly what you paid or voted for. In the same way, the people who hired you expect you to use your skills to their benefit, just as you promised in your CV and interview. Sometimes, things happen that make it difficult for you to deliver on your promise. This is where managing expectations becomes crucial.

If people must wait in a queue for ten minutes at your place of business, let them know the average waiting time is 20 minutes. If you know you will need an extra day to finish an order, tell the customer it will be done in two days. If you need an hour to write a report, ask for a three-hour deadline. It will just make you seem all the more efficient when you finish earlier than promised.

If you are an elected or appointed leader facing pressure to provide results, here’s my humble advice: it is better to give deadlines that will be considered too far ahead, and then deliver before time is up, than to make promised that are pleasing to the ear, and then keep revising your deadlines backward each time you fail to meet them. That just creates frustration, and trusts me; we really do not need frustration in our lives right now.

If you can’t pay people on time, tell them when you will pay them, and pay them before the date you told them. It is the simplest way to gain people’s trust and support, especially when things are really tough. We all need to believe in something or someone in these hard times, so whoever you are, and whatever you do, please make it easier for someone to believe in you.

My name is Kojo Yankson, and today, my positive strategy for you is simple: under-promise and over-deliver.