Bill took our conversation to heart and connected with Cindi to verify what she thought he wanted from her…his expectations and this is what he reported.
“Bill, what happened with Cindi?” I asked.
“She was actually grateful that I asked her what she thought she should be doing. And her description of what I expected from her was so different from the one I think I shared that I wondered if we were in the same room together when I shared my expectations 8 months ago. I mean, she did get the general idea, the big picture. But she was really way off when it came to the kind of things I wanted her to focus on. I had asked her to work on her own while she coordinated with three other people on the new product technical catalogue. She did keep them in the loop about what she was doing but she did not coordinate with them.”
“Bill, what did you have in your mind when you used the word ‘coordinate’?”
“Yes, by coordinate I meant that she should work with the new product developers and packaging people to make sure any changes that they made in their parts of the project were included in the catalogue she was creating before we published the thing.”
“Did Cindi understand that this is what you meant by coordination?”
“I guess not,” Bill replied. “She didn’t do it. And they didn’t do it either because they thought it was her job to follow up.”
“Bill, what have you learned from this set of events?”
“I think some people don’t listen very well and others don’t say what they want with the necessary detail to make it understandable. I just assumed that Cindi understood what I meant by coordinate and that got me in trouble.” Bill was quiet for a moment. “I guess it all started with me failing to tell Cindi in a clear and comprehensive way, what I wanted. You know, I have done this with people who know and have worked with me in the past and we understand each other in the right context. But Cindi is new to our business and team so I should have taken the time to get into the details.”
“Bill, at least 60% of the challenges I coach people on have to do with some breakdown in communication around expectations or what people want. Telling people what you want is critical to the success of any relationship. People fail to say what they want, they don’t say it clearly, and they don’t ask questions to verify that the other person has heard them in the way they intend.”
“How do you do that, Steve. I mean without insulting someone. Verify, that is.”
“One way you can varify Bill, is to ask for it. For example, you could have said to Cindi, ‘You know Cindi, communications and perceptions of what those communications mean can get really screwed up. I used the word coordination in one way and you may interpret it in another. So I want to varify that I communicated in the way I intended. Please tell me what you heard and understood from our conversation.’ Or you can ask the person to send you an email outlining what you have agreed to in the conversation. Ask for details. Or you can put it in writing and ask them to verify it and they can ask for clarification.”
“Bill, if you want to set up accountability, everything starts with the wants. What do I want? What do you want? What do we want? What does the organization want? Wants are the vision, the goals, the results. What are we aiming for? Clear expectations are clear wants. If people don’t know what we want we probably won’t get what we expect.”
“Steve, I guess Cindi’s failure so far had a great deal to do with what I failed to do,” Bill said.
“I don’t like to think of accountability as being about blame. If you want to go in that direction we will waste a lot of time. And everyone who was involved played a part in Cindi’s temporary side track. Does she know what is expected of her now and has she acted on it, Bill?”
“She agreed to take action and she asked a lot of questions to get clear because she really seems committed. And there is still some time to meet the deadline on the catalogue.”
“Bill, lets deepen this conversation next time because there is much to learn here about accountability in just this one example.”