Their Failure to Understand Starts with YOU!
True story. Our boys LOVE video games. So much that they would do anything to spend time playing them. One day after school they came upstairs and asked if they could play video games. In our house we treat things like video games as a privilege. Because my wife and I believe in working for our privileges, we proposed, "First clean your room and you can play video games." Their response was “ok”, and they raced to their room like they had just won the lottery.
Twenty-two minutes later came up and said, “We’re Done!”
What?!?!? How could they be done? That room looked like someone shook it like a snow globe! There was no way they could have cleaned it that quickly! They followed my wife and I as we went with eager skepticism to investigate. So if you have and/or look after young children, then you already know what they did. They literally shoved everything they could into their closet. And when they couldn’t shove any more items into this makeshift vertical storage silo, they proceeded to fill their beds with the rest and neatly cover it up with the bedspread. The pure childish pride on their faces was all we could hold onto from losing my cool. To them, they were heroes! They “cleaned” their room right?
Just before we buried them in lectures about how they should know better (as we have done in the past) I pointed out to my wife that we were not getting the results we wanted, and this may be an opportunity to change our approach. Taking a moment to understand how this situation could have been avoided, it dawned on us that we have never really showed them what a clean room actually looks like. The problem was US!
After a somewhat painful 2 hours of cleaning and organizing, we turned to our boys and shared hugs and high 5’s. The Lego was in the bins, the stuffies were happy on their shelves and the dirty clothes were in the laundry bin. We even managed to identify items they no longer needed, and found toys they thought were lost! We were done! You can only imagine the energy it took for us to remain focused on the goal AND keep these two young boys motivated to help us.
The crazy thing though is that this was not the first time that this room had been so beautifully organized. When we first moved them into this room it felt this same way. As we sat and talked with them about what we just accomplished, they shared their thoughts on why a clean room is better than a dirty one. They saw the value in finding their favorite Beyblade that lived under the bed for 4 months. They liked the thought of having a place for their lego, ready to use whenever they wanted. And they said they enjoyed being a part of the activity, especially because we were there with them. Awe…
So this was all quite beautiful, but I had a nagging gut feeling that we would soon find ourselves managing this issue again… and probably as soon as tomorrow! I want my boys to be in charge of their room, and I want to support them in this responsibility, but I do not want to have to do it for them. On top of this, I do not want the results I have had in the past, which is anger and frustration on not getting the results that I wanted. We had to find a way to make it stick. Of course my Lean instincts kicked in! We took a picture of the clean room and put a copy of it under their light switch. This way when whenever we say, “Clean your room”, this picture offers a snapshot for them to reference to. They now do what we want them to do because they can see the way we want them to do it, and THEY want to do it! Do they cheat sometimes? For sure! Do they sometimes still forget to reference the photo? Yup. But now we use the photo to respectfully SHOW them what we expect of them instead of having to retell it every time. We are SETTING our expectations, instead of MANAGING them.
Most organizations are dealing with this same challenge when it comes to how they operate. They spend a huge amount of resources including time and money to keeping the wheels turning “smoothly”. If you own a company, you can relate to this. I hear CEO’s, business owners and managers saying it everywhere I go.“They always make mistakes, they never hit the deadlines, we aren’t making any money”, and my personal favorite, “It’s hard to find good people”. Sound at all familiar? Please keep an open mind when I say that the solutions to these challenges that you face all start with YOU. You want people to be accountable for their roles, but you are not holding yourself accountable to your own role! Allow me to explain.
You see where your organization both excels as well as struggles in the day to day tasks, because you yourself know what needs to happen to get the job done. This is because you built and/or took over this organization with your very own knowledge and skills. Now you have reached a point where you are depending on the team that you assembled around you to continue with this legacy that you have built. The reason these people are part of your organization is because you recognize that you are not able to "do it all" by yourself, and so YOU have surrounded yourself with people that you feel "complete" you. You then fostered an environment that created buy-in by using your abilities to help those around you see the Vision that you have. The challenge at some point becomes how to get them to do what you need them to do, but because THEY want to do it. This is the life goal that my wife and I have as parents for our kiddos.
So here is the question to ask yourself and your Leaders...
"Are you spending more time MANAGING your expectations... or are you effectively SETTING your expectations?
How CLEAR are the expectations that you have for your leader(s) and their people? You might think that you have done this, whether it be in interviews, reviews, and/or generic job descriptions, or they have been there for “all these years”, but I assure you this is where the opportunity is. Yes, these are all great ways to help an individual initially see what is expected of them, but it most likely does not contribute to helping them understand what is expected of them. In a lot cases, when the individual or team does not understand what's expected of them, they rarely perform as expected. The expectations are then set out again, which unfortunately is often done verbally, and they are sent out to try again. This might bring some results, but it usually falls short of the expectation or worse yet results in anger or frustration. Nothing really changes at all. Your energy spent trying to get them back on track is wasted. You think it is because they don’t want to do what they are asked to do, but in reality they want to win, just with clarity and respect. Because without it, they (and you) will fail. Simply put… if they cannot clearly understand what you have as expectations for them, then you are MANAGING your expectations, and that is YOUR problem!
SETTING expectations means spending the time up front making sure that ALL efforts are made to lay out what is expected. There are many ways to do this, and one exercise (which I challenge you to do) is to write out all of the roles and responsibilities you know you need in place in order for your organization to operate. Notice that I do not ask you to write any names? It is because it is not about the individual, it is about the roles and the related expectations. Once you have spent time defining what your expectations are of this role, it is then time to sit down with the person(s) that you feel are best suited to take on this role.
What is important is this… Know that the moment you put the expectations in front of them, it simply creates conversation. This conversation is where you and the person that you chose to fill this role can spend time clarifying what is expected of them, and what questions or challenges that they might have in taking on this role. Then, in a Supporting vs. Dictating approach, have the discussion with the individual what parts of their role are they “going to own, need help with, delegate to others, or give back to you as their leader.”
I have had people challenge me by asking, “You seriously want me to write out EVERYTHING that I expect my people to do?” and my answer is “YES!”. And if writing does not work, use a video, or a picture. Just make sure it is crystal clear! In all of my years of experience leading people (which includes my very own children) I have not had to “manage” my expectations whenever I actually committed the time required to help them understand what is expected. When an expectation was not met, (and this will still happen) my time was not spent on re-explaining what was expected of them, rather it was time spent coaching, supporting and understanding why they were unable to meet the expectations. This creates a safe place to talk about skills, knowledge and desire. Being available in this manner to those that you count on to get things done gives them the control to decide what they need to change or adjust to meet the need. This is called Empowerment. And with empowerment comes something that we all truly long for… Accountability.
I’ll end with this question. “Why is there never enough time to do things right the first time, but there is always time to re-do it?” The answer is “Because if you do not do it right the first time, you WILL BE re-doing it.” And if you choose to continue to run your organization or family this way, you will set them and yourself up for failure... Every time!
Please watch for my next white paper where I will share some exercises that you can use in a more structured approach to making this part of everyday life.
Enjoy this beautiful day, unless you choose otherwise!
Kaizen Initiatives Inc.