The Simplicity—and Power—of Stop, Start, Continue

Guest post from Rodger Dean Duncan:
Whether you’re
a leader, follower, partner, or service provider, clarity is always important.
Let’s say
you’ve delegated a task to someone else. If a deadline will be missed or a key
deliverable won’t be ready as expected, you want an honest and timely report.
Honest in that it contains all the pertinent information, and timely in that it
provides opportunity to shift gears if necessary.
If you’re a
follower, you need the same kind of clarity. Even if the “how” of the
assignment is left to your discretion, you need a specific and mutual understanding
of the “what.”
In a
partnership (and that includes a marriage), it’s always imperative that mutual
expectations are honored.
And if you’re a
service provider—let’s face it, you provide service if you’re a leader,
follower, or partner—you’re headed for trouble if you fail to meet agreed-upon expectations.
Call it
transparency, exactitude, explicitness or any other fancy name you wish. But by
whatever label you choose, clarity in expectations will serve you well in any
The key is to
communicate early and often.
I’ve found that
a simple formula can help keep dialogue on a productive path. It’s called
“Stop, Start, Continue.”
If you report to someone else, don’t wait for your periodic
performance review. Initiate a conversation with your leader by briefly confirming
that you value feedback and you want to ensure that you’re meeting (and even
exceeding) expectations. Explain that you’d like to use the “Stop, Start,
Continue” framework to ensure that the conversation is helpful to both of you.
Ask your leader
if there’s anything you should Stop doing. Make it clear that you’re sincerely
open to feedback and you want to catch any missteps early. Listen carefully.
Resist the temptation to argue against or rebut any feedback you receive.
Demonstrate by your demeanor that you really want to understand and make any
necessary course corrections.
Next, ask your
leader if there’s anything you’re not currently doing that would be helpful to
the project or cause you’re serving. Again, listen carefully. Ask follow-up
questions if necessary. Focus on understanding, not any kind of rebuttal.
Finally, ask
your leader what you’re currently doing that you should definitely continue.
Seek for specificity. For example, don’t be satisfied if your leader says
something like “You’re doing a great job, just keep it up.” Express
appreciation for the compliment, then ask for specifics. Is it the presentation
you gave at last week’s all-hands meeting? What seemed to be most helpful? Is
it the way you handled logistics on last month’s big project? What,
specifically, should be repeated? Is it the way you’re collaborating with other
departments? The work you’re doing to engage your team members? Get as many
specifics as you can so you’ll know for sure exactly what your leader
If people report to you, teach them to use the “Stop, Start,
Continue” framework in their dialogue with you about their work. And remember
that it’s a two-way street. If you care about how they view your leadership
efforts—and you absolutely should—it’s helpful to have open and honest
conversation about what you’re doing that helps or hampers. And remember that
the spirit in which you accept feedback provides a model for how you expect
others to accept feedback from you.
All kinds of relationships can benefit from the “Stop, Start, Continue”
framework. In an organizational setting, peers can use the framework to learn
how they can better serve each others’ needs. For example, department heads can
use the framework in talking about how to avoid the common silo mentality that can
be deadly to performance. You can even add one more element: Change. A process
may be working to some extent but could benefit from minor changes. Open
dialogue can help identify the needed tweaks.
When it’s done
in the right spirit, “Stop, Start, Continue” underscores mutual respect and
collaboration. My wife and I periodically use this conversational framework to
discuss our marriage relationship. Does it work? I’m happy to report that I
have more than 50 years of positive evidence to justify a resounding “yes.”
Rodger Dean Duncan
is a sought-after speaker and leadership coach. His clients have included
cabinet officers in two White House administrations and senior leaders in
dozens of top companies in multiple industries. He’s the award-winning, bestselling
author of
LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders.