Home All Agree on Success. You’ll Be Happy You Did.©

Agree on Success. You’ll Be Happy You Did.©

written by David J. Pollay 2 September 2008

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.

Be clear on what’s expected of you in your job.  Agree on what success looks like.  Don’t be shy.  Ask how you’re going to be judged.  I learned how important this is when I interned for Procter and Gamble in the summer of 1986. 

I wanted my own apartment near the office, but my budget was too tight.  I could only afford to rent a room in a suburban home.  We’ll call the owner of the home Mrs. Johnson.

Lawn mower

Lawn mower

In order to reduce the rent that was advertised, I suggested to Mrs. Johnson that I could cut her lawn during the summer.  She agreed, and I moved in the next day – my first day on the job with Procter and Gamble.  I worked hard that first week, logging in more than seventy hours.  When Friday night came around, I was tired.  After dinner I went straight to bed.

Now do you ever get the sense that someone is staring at you?  You can tell without even opening your eyes, or looking in their direction.  Well, the next morning I had that feeling…and then I heard a voice. 

“David, it’s time to get up.”  It was Mrs. Johnson. 

She said it again, “David, it’s time to get up.” It was 7:00a.m. on a Saturday.

I said, “What?!  Why?!” 

Mrs. Johnson answered in a cheery, but demanding voice, “It’s time to get up and mow the lawn and clean the pool.” 

I couldn’t believe it!  First, why is Mrs. Johnson waking me up to do my chores at 7:00a.m.?!  Second, when did I get assigned to clean the pool?!  And third, what is Mrs. Johnson doing in my room?!

The answer to these questions is simple:  This is what you get when you don’t clarify and agree on expectations in a business relationship.  So, you can bet I quickly sorted out my agreement with Mrs. Johnson.  And we put it in writing. 

Lawn Stripes, East to West

Lawn Stripes, East to West

We discussed my job (mowing the lawn), how it should be done (cut medium length with the lawnmower tracks running east to west), and when it should be completed (by 5:00p.m. each Sunday).  My summer with Mrs. Johnson taught me the importance of setting and agreeing upon business outcomes with your boss, your employees, your suppliers, and your customers.  There should be no surprises, unless they’re good ones.

“Define the right outcomes and then let each person find his own route toward these outcomes.”  This was one of the key findings of two Gallup Organization studies involving over 80,000 managers and more than 1 million employees.  Managers who followed this principle were the most successful in the Gallup study.  Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (Gallup consultants at the time) related the results of this research in First, Break All the Rules.   Buckingham and Coffman wrote, “Keep the focus on outcomes:  The role of a company is to identify the desired end.  The role of the individual is to find the best means possible to achieve that end.  Therefore strong companies become experts in the destination and give the individual the thrill of the journey.”

Take the guesswork out of success; agree on how it will be measured.  If you don’t, you’ll have someone like Mrs. Johnson waking you up someday.



Lawn Mower courtesy of Sugar Pond
Lawn Stripes courtesy of AdamKR

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Remi 2 September 2008 - 4:04 am

Wow, Thanks for your valuable contribution.
A variety of other writers learned of the syndicate and began offering their services, including Dayton Daily News feature editor Bob Batz, Mt. Pleasant Daily Sun reporter Eric Baerren, author and freelance writer Candace Talmadge and author/humor writer Mike Ball.

Margaret 2 September 2008 - 4:40 pm

David, your gift of story telling continues to enlighten! “Finding one’s route to the desired outcome” is a wonderful way to think about how we can leverage our strengths. Warm regards, Margaret

David J. Pollay 2 September 2008 - 9:43 pm

Hi Remi,

Great to hear from you! Thanks for the post.

And North Star has some very talented writers: Bob, Eric, Candace and Mike are four of them for sure. We appreciate your support,

Best to you,


David J. Pollay 2 September 2008 - 9:48 pm

Hi Margaret!

Thanks MG for your kind words. I appreciate them always.

And both of us know from our experience working in large organizations and coaching people in them, it is critical that expectations are communicated clearly to everyone. And then as you point out, everyone can put their strengths to work in meeting and surpassing them.


Chris 3 September 2008 - 9:05 am

Another great story David.

I have used this lesson with both the players and parents of my baseball team. It is especially useful with the parents! We have a preseason meeting where I very clearly lay out expectations and roles of parents and players (i.e. absolutely no yelling at umpires, ever!).

Thanks for your contributions!

David J. Pollay 3 September 2008 - 10:07 am

Thanks Chris! You make a great point about the importance of setting clear expectations for athletes. And I’m sure that your setting clear expectations for the parents of your players helps make the team more successful and the season more enjoyable for everyone.

Thanks for the post!


Jeff Dustin 3 September 2008 - 11:57 am


Agree on Success explores a facet of applied negotiation.

Let me ask a follow-up question, please. Given the sheer diversity of perspectives, people, cultures, how do you agree on success successfully? I think a lovely sequel to Agree on Success might be the How of Negotiation.

I think the best advice is simple and that’s why I admire your writing. It is direct like Yankee wisdom. I could almost see you on a lobster boat in a Gordon’s fisherman slicker pulling up a lobster pot and smoking a long pipe.

What is a good pithy way to describe when to walk from negotiation…when does the cost exceed benefit? I ask this not only for myself but for the women in my life who are with batterers, for the people who get sucked into deals that are perpetual cons, for those who are harmed but persist in staying in situations that hurt.

If you could put into a pithy question the rule for cutting your losses and when to persist, that would be fantastic. No one is more persuasive than your own mind.

David J. Pollay 4 September 2008 - 10:42 pm

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the great post. I sure appreciate your support. And I love your imagery; thanks for the generous tip of the hat.

Jeff, your question about when to push forward, when to step back, and when to get out of something in life is a critical one for us all. One thing for sure is that none of us deserve to be in an abusive situation. We should be able to live our lives free of violence, intimidation, and disrespect. It is horrible to see the ones we love and care about in our lives hurt physically or emotionally. Jeff, I’ll take your homework assignment and post again. I teach a particular approach to handle this question in relationships – when to try and when to move on – that I think could be helpful.

Thanks again for the kind and thought-provoking post!

Best to you,


Jeff Dustin 5 September 2008 - 1:42 am


What if you were married to the Garbage Truck and the Truck Driver was a “loving” terrorist that literally ran you down?

Here’s a real world example. There is a young woman who is dating an ex-con. He’s violent and on the prison installment plan. He has spent years in the can for felonies. When he drinks he becomes belligerent and violent. In fact his crimes are in part a result of uninhibited behavior while drunk. He’s a dead beat dad and doesn’t pay for his daughter by a previous woman. Oh, he’s also an addict. She says “he’s going to change, any day now” and “he’s given up drinking/stealing/fighting”. He hasn’t been violent toward her much, but he proudly boasts that he gave his ex-girlfriend a black eye and roughed her up because “the bitch really deserved it”. Luckily he works construction and disappears without a trace for a week or two sometimes. Money goes in one direction: into his veins where the alcohol and IV drugs flow. When he’s off the drugs, he can be very charming. Most people don’t see his violent side.

The young woman wants to have a baby and marry this ex-con. She speaks highly of him and defends his actions, good and bad, vigorously. “You just don’t understand him!” she says to her friends and family.

Is it possible to influence the young woman to think critically about her decisions?

David J. Pollay 8 September 2008 - 2:47 pm

Hi Jeff,

You ask an important question that I am asked a lot in my seminars and coaching. When is the right time – and the necessary time – to leave someone you love? You love them so much, but you can no longer accept the life you have to endure waiting for the good moments. You know you will never stop loving them, but you realize that life with them puts you in psychological and physical danger.

The challenge is that everyone has a different threshold for coming to this conclusion. And when we do reach a decision to leave someone we love, we all need a lot of help following through with one of the toughest decisions of our lives.

And while we’re trying to make a relationship work, we want to feel that we are giving our best effort (many people share this sentiment with me). So, I advise my clients on how to communicate with the important people in their lives who act like Garbage Trucks. (For those unfamiliar with my philosophy, go here for an introduction: http://davidjpollay.typepad.com/david_j_pollay/lawofthegarbagetruck.html) We cannot control the behavior of others; we can just do our best to help them. The key here is to find ways of amplifying the good in the people we love. The more we can help them be their best selves, and give up their Garbage Truck ways, the better we all are. There is a lot more about how to communicate with a Garbage Truck, how to reduce our own Garbage, and how to stop dumping Garbage on others, in my book that is coming out this fall, “Beware of Garbage Trucks!.”

And to your last question, one of the best ways I know to help someone realize for themselves that they are dealing with a difficult, and possibly a dead-end relationship is to join a support group. Given that the man she loves is suffering from an addiction, one group I would suggest that she attend is Al-Anon (http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/english.html). The woman you know may need one of her friends or family members to go with her; she will need help making it through a difficult period of facing the challenges of her relationship with the man she loves.

Jeff, the people in your life are lucky to have you. It is clear you are trying to help a lot of people.

Best to you,


jeff dustin 8 September 2008 - 3:20 pm

Thank you for your kindnesses, David. They mean a lot to me. The recidivism rate for both spousal abusers and repeat felony offenders is very high. I’d like to share some of the happiness that my circumstances have given me to those who are less fortunate.

Which brings me back to the question I harp on all the time. When someone is amotivated to take action, what are the reliable & time-tested methods for kickstarting Kathryn B’s “Just Enough Motivation”?

I believe Seligman said that we know so much about basic theoretical processes but applying psychology to solve world problems is still an infant. I’m glad that PPND is shining a spotlight on the darkness. We need more methods courses and books on how to better use the gift of PP.

Lately, I’ve been reading Philip Zimbardo’s “The Lucifer Effect”. If you haven’t read it, boy its a treat. Horrific but hopeful at the same time, Zimbardo teases apart the underlying connections among Abu Graib, the Stanford Prison Experiment, the Rwanda/Darfur nightmare, concentration camps, and so on.

I see spousal abuse as a maladaptive stress relief valve. The husband (typically it is a male abuser) feels powerless in his life and makes his wife the enemy. I truly believe that many batterers believe in the justice and fairness of beating their wives. Just like those who commit genocide, there is a degree of detachment from the victim and a sense of rightness in the perpetrator.

This brings me to a final point. Are human beings alike enough to respond to basic processes and assumptions? Put simply, are there universally designed motivators that work for most people, most of the time? Who are the best applied motivators, the people who motivate others for a living? What does that population have to teach us about moving the reluctant? INSTANT ARTICLE IDEA!

I hope to read your book soon.

Mihir Gosalia 13 September 2008 - 2:40 am

Hi David,

You’ve shown through this simple story How important it is before taking up a new professional assignment to clarify job expectations, outcomes & deliverables at the time of Personal Interview. I believe that once you’re clear after discussions that this is the job which I wanted & that i will be able to perform then only the offer should be accepted. One must not act in haste & excitement and take up any offer that comes in one’s way.

It is very important to evaluate all aspects before agreeing upon the offer lest it could prove to be a costly mistake afterwards if one realises latter that this is not what I wanted to do.

I suggest that candidates should ask for a copy of Job Description at the time of PI so that they can evaluate for themselves too. This is also a good way of finding out whether the company or HR Dept. has worked or planned for the particular profile.

Best Regards,


David J. Pollay 3 October 2008 - 9:59 pm


You are so right to encourage people to go through this exercise before they accept a job offer. Great advice!

Thanks for your post!

Best to you,



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