Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inspect What You Expect

Bill Clinton: On Running a Country:
So if you are having a problem with people you are not alone. President Clinton once said running a country is a lot like running a cemetery; you've got a lot of people under you and nobody's listening.— in a speech at Galesburg, III.

As a manager, Bill’s not alone when it comes to feeling like no one’s listening to you. One of the biggest myths about management is the fantasy that if you tell your employees to do something they will do it.

See if this scenario sounds familiar:

During one of your weekly staff meetings, your team discusses a major client issue and reaches a decision. Action plans are established to be completed in two weeks.
Later that morning, a problem is brought to your attention and you fire off an email to your team asking for ideas on how to solve it.
That afternoon, you receive a notice from headquarters regarding mandatory online training that needs to be completed by all employees within 30 days. You forward the note to your employees asking them to complete the training.
Sounds like a productive day of leading, right? You’re on fire, baby!

Fast forward 45 days. You get an angry call from the head of sales informing you that your major client is upset and will no longer do business with your company – due to the very same issue you thought you had solved!
At your manager’s staff meeting, you get called out for your team not being in compliance with the mandatory training.
And just because you’re a glutton for punishment, you check to see how many ideas were submitted on how to solve that other problem. Only two.

If you’re like me, the issue of people not doing what you tell them to do is one of the most mysterious and frustrating parts of being a manager. What makes it so mysterious is that I would never dream of not doing what my manager (or anyone, for that matter) has asked me to do. It’s a deeply held value for me, a part of being responsible and credible. You do what you say you’re going to do – especially if it’s for your boss!

By the way – how does it feel to show up to your manager’s meeting being one of the only ones that’s done their homework? So while you stayed an hour late the night before to be prepared, the rest of your co-workers get rewarded with an extra week to finish.

Do yourself a favor – just let go of this fantasy and expectation. And stop getting angry with your employees. Instead, start inspecting what you expect.

In any group of employees, there are some that you can depend on 100% of the time to do what you tell them to do. I’ve heard them referred to as “self-licking lollipops”.
Then there’s a group that has good intentions – but your request just gets lost in a sea of hundreds of other priorities. Sometimes they just forget. Sometimes, they make conscious decisions to prioritize. They figure if you’ve only asked once, and not followed up, it might not be that important. They play the percentage game, hoping that they can take a chance and it may go away. Then, there are others that are just outright lazy and irresponsible – but these are a very small percentage of people. And let’s be honest… we all have things we know we should be doing but we don’t (like losing that 10 pounds). That’s just a part of being human. You have to assume that most, if not ALL of your employees are in the first two categories, and accept that everyone can drop a ball now and then.

So, like it or not, when you ask (tell) your employees to do something, you’ll be helping them be successful and making one of your biggest sources of frustration go away by establishing a simple yet effective inspection system. If you say something is due in two weeks, send a reminder 2-3 days before it’s due. Then, on the due date, ask to actually see proof of what you’ve asked to have done. Use your Outlook calendar to set up task reminders to yourself and maintain checklists of what you’re asked people to do.

It’s not a matter of trust; it’s about establishing the expectation that what you have asked for is important – that it matters to you. For those employees who have done what they were supposed to do, it’s an opportunity to praise and reward. Others will appreciate the reminders, and may even learn to manage their own priorities a little better. And what about those chronic offenders? Make sure there are negative consequences that matter to them. The rest of your team will appreciate it.

Go ahead – set yourself free – stop expecting people to do what they are told to do, and instead, help them do what they need to do. Like it or now, that’s your job as a leader.


R J Hall said...

Thanks for the somewhat cynical, but very realistic post. I do think it depends on your people (and there are definitely some who are the group A or B that you can count on 95% of the time). Some have never been taught -- hard to believe, I know -- that you do what you're supposed to do and you make reminders or do whatever to ensure you don't drop the ball. The follow-up suggestions you provide can help teach people good habits so maybe they'll need less and less detailed follow-up over time.

Another point it made me think of is about deadlines. I'm a deadline person and one of my folks was missing deadlines on a few things. When I asked her about it, she said she didn't see what the big deal was because it was an arbitrary deadline and the material really didn't need to be in by then. She was right about the material's deadline, but she was dead wrong about my deadline. She agreed to meet it. In my book, when we agree to meet deadlines, they're in stone...regardless. Still, I think as leaders, we can help our people with deadlines by setting the proper expectations and checking on progress to the goal. Again, we all win.

Thanks again for your great advice.

Wally Bock said...

Love the post, Dan. When I teach this in class or the Working Supervisor's Support Kit, I cover four components.

You have to start with clear expectations. That includes a way to know how you're going to measure compliance or success. Sometimes that's easy and obvious, sometimes it takes thought and discussion.

You have to check for understanding. It's important for a team member to understand things the same way you do. You can't leave that to chance.

Then you have to "go and see" if the understanding translates into the performance or behavior you expected. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't.

Finally, you need to either make any necessary course corrections or use the experience as a way to teach.

Paul Reeves said...

Great scenario - very realistic.

Personally, I don't like have "the reminder monkey" on my back. Nor would I expect a second request (the reminder) to get more results than the original request, with the person who needs reminding.

My preference, and recommendation, is to ask for status selectively for those who don't deliver, and with increasing "intensity" depending upon compliance. An early lie / failure is more useful than a deadline day surprise.

Cheers, Paul Reeves

Dan McCarthy said...

RJ, Wally, Paul -
thanks for the additional pointers - all good!

ED Hardy Caps said...

i like

Rick B. said...

Thanks for the refreshing Post Dan.
Great mix of 'entertainment and training'. The energy you share here can be applied outside the workplace as well.

Derek Irvine said...

It's all about measurement. I like Steve Kerr's definition-measurement-reward process, summarized by him:

“If something isn’t measured, you can’t give people feedback about it, so they can’t improve. You can’t reward the people who are doing it well, and you can’t improve or admonish people who do it poorly. Measurement also signals that something is important; if no one is tracking it, it will take a backseat to things that are being scrutinized. … Things that aren’t measured can’t be rewarded and they very likely won’t get done.”

More on this approach and how to apply it here:

Dan McCarthy said...

Rick -

Derek -
Great words of wisdom from Kerr. Thanks.

Utpal Vaishnav said...

Inspect What You Expect - the title reminds me of E-myth book that I read some time ago.

Great Article with Great Leadership Focus.