Later this week I will be meeting with my client Jim, the General Manager of a $300M business, to help ensure one of his direct reports, Mike, knows the expectations for the key role he’s been given. For the past several months, Mike has been saying all projects are going along fine, completing timelines and milestones, yet this is not the reality.

Jim recently saw an updated financial performance statement that painted a very different picture of the situation. Because this was not the first time results were less than expected, this prompted his call to me for some assistance.

During this same business trip, I’ll be conferring with another client, to help the leadership team identify the reasons their employees haven’t been as productive as required. While I will prepare uniquely for each session, my hunch going in is, to paraphrase a classic movie line, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” In this second instance, it is likely going to be a failure to communicate expectations.

In my experience, this failure is not unique to just a couple of clients, and my bet is this may be an issue you face on occasion as well.

Why can this be such a nagging condition for some leaders? The following questions are worth consideration:

  1. Assumptions– We can all make this mistake – no one can read our minds and know exactly what we are thinking or planning. Yet, we often rationalize and think, “Well, this team has been together for two years now, of course they know what I’m thinking and expecting.” If you are guilty of this assumption, as I have been more times than I care to admit, we are just plain wrong.

The antidote to this pitfall is to follow the ABC rule – always be clarifying. Those on our team need to know our current thinking because we are probably taking new perspectives into account they are not aware of.

  1. New Information May Alter Plans– How many times does new information, new facts, updated numbers or schedules come to you and cause you to alter some of the approaches you had planned on implementing? In this rapidly evolving “Information Age,” new knowledge and technology comes at us faster every day. Sometimes we just can’t keep up with the changes and neither can those on your team.

The antidote to this is to follow the ABU rule – always be updating. By always, I don’t mean to suggest being like the old fashioned stock market ticker which constantly gave real time updates on the price of individual stocks.

Many organizations have mastered the use of the daily huddle concept where each day starts off with the team meeting for 5, 10 or 15 minutes to review updates and plans.

  1.  Level of Authority– While I’m all for delegation of responsibility to the lowest level possible, as leaders we must also delegate the correct amount of authority. How empowered is each person to achieve each assignment you delegate to them? Just because they have a high-sounding job title, each delegation comes with a certain level of authority.

Levels of authority (in relation to a leader) range from:

a) just research the situation and let me know your findings;
b) research and come to me with a few options and I’ll decide;
c) come up with a few options and let me know which one you think is best;
d) take on the entire issue and let me know what you have decided to do;
e) make whatever decisions are necessary to address this and there is no need for any reporting back to me.

  1.  What Do They Expect of You– Just as you have expectations of each person on your team, they have expectations of you. The problem is all their expectations are not the same in every situation.

Some people on your team may operate very independently and confidently, while others not so much. This may also depend on the particular assignment given to them.

Similar to point 3 above, assignments, competency, confidence, and execution are situational, and as the leader, one person may expect different support or input from you as compared to another.

The antidote for this is to follow the ABA rule – always be asking. In this case, always be asking your team what they need from you. It may be encouragement, resources, strategic introductions, new sources to consider, etc.

As I meet this week with the two clients I mentioned earlier, I’ll be referencing these four points and some additional ones as well.

How about you? Are you 100% certain each person on your team knows your expectations of them? What evidence do you have for your answer?

Be careful of facts masquerading as assumptions – it happens all the time.

Best regards,

Bill