I had several interesting calls this week. One was with a senior manager who is in an unfortunate situation where his career pursuits are not being supported by the leaders in his firm. As we talked, it became evident that he expected the firm to pave the way for him without him having to speak up for himself. They should just know what he wants and what he needs to get there. Hmm.
Another call was with a partner who complained that her staff wouldn’t perform. When I asked how her conversations went with them, she said she discussed their underperformance at the last annual review, which was several months ago. Besides, can’t they figure it out for themselves? Hmm.
One of the first rules of success is to know the expectations. When everyone knows the expectations, things go so much better. It’s always worth repeating, reminding and recommitting to those expectations on a regular basis to keep everyone grounded and focused.
In an earlier time, the “need to know” rule worked well and was fine for assembly line workers. Just put this bolt in that hole and keep up with everyone else. That’s all you need to know.
But knowledge workers not only have tasks to do, but they must exercise judgment in those tasks. They need an understanding of how the assignment fits into the big picture, what the ultimate goal is, what things to look for, what’s important to the client, etc. Without knowing those expectations, people are left to their own imaginations to do what seems best. “Work on this and let me know when you’re done” is a setup for blown budgets, missed deadlines, wrong priorities, frustration, disappointment and deflated motivation. All because you didn’t communicate the expectations so they were known and shared.
All of this applies to you, your staff, and even your clients. All of their misbehavior and underperformance interferes with your work and your goals, causing you and them more frustration than deserved. Yet so much of it is due to your unwillingness to have direct, clear conversations about expectations. Communicating your expectations in a collaborative, non-defensive way is a skill that you probably need to develop more and use more. Don’t default to “they should just know.”