Do other people know what you want?

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Just yesterday I asked “Will middle managers join the dinosaurs?” after reading Lynda Gratton’s Future of Work blog post. Today in John T. Landry gives a different approach:

…[W]e’re better off accepting command-and-control as the default for organizational life. A few companies or industries may be able to achieve true empowerment and collaboration for a while, mostly because their fast-changing markets leave them little choice. For every other organization, let’s lower our sights and focus on softening the edges of hierarchy.

Interesting. But I am more interested in a different part of the post where Landry describes an interview given by Bob Brennan CEO of Iron Mountain. Here is how Landry describes what Brennan says:

Brennan starts by saying that business is going through a transformation and top-down leadership no longer works well for companies. But he believes that too many of his managers still operate in a “command-and-control reflex.” They’re a lot like he was earlier in his career: good at holding subordinates accountable but bad at setting clear expectations. When subordinates aren’t sure what the boss really wants to accomplish, they don’t feel safe, and true delegation is impossible. Instead of acting autonomously, they hang around the boss and try to do whatever pleases him at the moment.

Fascinating. It reminded me of something I wrote long ago in a post called “What will your employees do when you leave for a vacation?”:

Imagine. You leave for a month of an overdue vacation. The catch is, it is on a deserted island, which has no way of communicating with the outside world. What will happen to your employees when you are gone? Will everything continue as usual? Will they be able to ask themselves, at every decision intersection they face – what does my manager would like to me to do, and answer that question? Correctly?

In one of the forums on Linkedin there is a current discussion about the difference between leaders and managers. While I have my own answer for this question, I found it interesting that a large part of the discussion was devoted to the question of vision and whether it is a necessary ingredient in the success of a company.  Well, maybe vision is a big word that frightens people and makes them think about historical figures or CEO of multi-million dollar companies. But actually it is much simpler. A manager needs to ask – will my employees be able to make decisions when I am not here. The decisions might be right or wrong in retrospect, but that is less important. What is important is whether these decisions align with your guidelines and attitude?

So, do the people around you know what you want even when you are not there?



Making expectations a reality

Photo by roland

Bret L. Simmons wrote in his blog about the Expectations for Success he describes to his students at the beginning of every semester. Simmons says that these four expectations were crafted based on his experience in the workplace, not on his experience teaching:

1.   Come to every class, on time and prepared.

2.  Maintain a relaxed but orderly and professional environment in class.

3.  Give each other our best effort at all times.

4.  If you ever have a problem or complaint about anything associated with the course, I expect you to give me an opportunity to resolve the issue.

Wonderfully put. I think it accurately describe how I think employees should come to work (or for any other endeavor, for that matter).

My question is different. I believe that managers should be active in setting a supportive environment. If we agree that this is the kind of attitude we want employees to adopt, what can we, as managers, do to make it happen? Telling them is not enough. You can try to motivate someone, but in the end, all you can do, is make sure he has the correct atmosphere to will bring him to motivate himself.

So, I will take the expectations Simmons describes and turn them into four questions:

1.  What are you doing to make sure your employees wand and find it easy to come on time and prepared?

2.  What are you doing to make sure employees maintain a relaxed but orderly and professional environment at work?

3.  What are you doing to make sure employees give each other their best effort at all times?

4.  What are you doing to make sure that if employees ever have a problem or complaint about anything associated with work, they give you an opportunity to resolve the issue?

I am not claiming there are exact or “right” answers to these questions. It depends on the situation. But you should find your answers. I think that if you really try answering them, you would discover that you are not doing a lot at the moment.


Absolutely clear expectations about everything

Photo by roland


Rosabeth Moss Kanter has an interesting post today on called: Four Things Groups Want that Leaders Can’t Give — and One They Can. To spoil the message, the four things are: Absolutely clear expectations about everything, Perfect certainty about the future, Yes all the time, The ending at the beginning. And the one they can is TLC — tender loving care. You got to love that.

I want to concentrate on the first thing “groups want that leaders can’t give”:

Absolutely clear expectations about everything. Expectation-setting sounds good as a leadership principle but is difficult in practice, especially when leaders try to tell people about things they haven’t yet encountered and do not yet have the experience to comprehend. No matter how much leaders try to define expectations, lay out the nature of likely events, or describe the steps that the group will be going through, it’s not enough. As the work unfolds, leaders are likely to hear, “Why didn’t you tell us X, Y, or Z?” Even when leaders pull out the opening memo with X, Y, and Z spelled out in detail, some people deny that they received it. All leaders can do is strive to be thorough, to communicate repeatedly, and to document the flow of events.

I agree with Kanter completely but I think it is important to note that the fact that we can’t set expectations about everything does not mean we shouldn’t set them at all. Like with many other things in life, it is a matter of choosing the right issues to focus on. More than a year ago I wrote a post about the importance of expectations and got into an interesting debate in the comments about what it actually means. I think that debate revolves around the point I want to make here. No one can set expectations for every possible scenario. In fact, that collides with second thing “groups want that leaders can’t give”: perfect certainty about the future. That is why expectations should be used as templates not as clear rules. When we think about setting expectations, somehow, the picture that comes to mind is one of micromanaging. Instead, expectations should be less about the task itself or how to do it and more about the process of communication and about the guidelines for decision-making.

No. there wouldn’t be clear expectations about everything. Actually, there wouldn’t be about most things. But, if we recognize a number of key issues, the vital signs of our business if you will, and set our expectations around these issues and about how and when to communicate, those are things that groups might not want, but they certainly need.



Shorts: OI Partners – Action Management Corp. on 5 reasons promotions can fail

According to the Detroit News Joyce Blazen of OI Partners — Action Management Corp. cites these reasons why promoted workers fail:

• They don’t know how to progress from being individual performers to managing others, and haven’t acquired the leadership skills they need.

• They’re unsure of exactly what their bosses expect them to accomplish. They are unclear about their two or three most important goals for the job.

• They don’t achieve results within an acceptable time frame, or don’t even realize what the deadline is.

• They lack skills to manage others. They may be first-time managers, or have never had their leadership capabilities assessed.

• They’re unable to motivate others and keep them engaged in their jobs, and don’t reach out to people.

All things I have written about before like setting clear expectations and people’s tendency to want a promotion even though they don’t have the right talents and skills to be great managers.  However, I have two questions:

  1. What is the difference between the first, the fourth and fifth points? Management is about helping people excel, keeping them engaged by leveraging their strengths and motivating them… it is different than managing individually and there are certain types of people who have better inherent talents and strengths to do that.
  2. How long will we continue to confuse management and leadership??? managers don’t need more leadership skills, they need more management skills!


What are your expectations?


Photo by Roland

Today, as part of our marketing class, we had a guest lecture by Allan Watkinson from Gallup Consulting. Watkinson gave us a lecture about employee and customer engagement and Gallup’s Human-Sigma concept. I must admit it was a fascinating lecture that dealt with many of the things I write a lot about here in my blog.

Watkinson covered a few subjects that I will probably write about in following posts, but I think one of the issues that stood out for me was the subject of expectations. One of the things Gallup consultants encounter constantly is employees, even employees in high positions like executives, who are not sure what is expected of them. One of the main questions used to assess managers in the Gallup model is whether their employees know what is expected of them.

Now the notion by itself is not new for me, and I read about its importance as a question to predict managers’ effectiveness in “First, break all the rules“, but I think the importance of this concept can’t be stressed enough. More than that, this concept is not only important for managers. I actually encountered it in almost every professional and personal engagement I ever took part off.

Think about it. In teaching or presenting, setting expectations is one of the most important things. It is the first leg of “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them”. In coaching, setting expectations is the first step to create a viable relationship between coacher and coachee. I have heard about so many personal relationships that have failed or suffered because the couple did not communicate their expectations (including some of your truly). In the last few months, I have experienced first handed the importance of setting expectations in a team setting. And above all, as I write in my e-book, I believe that as an employee you should be active and set your expectations from the role to your manager.

So, if setting expectations is so important and crucial to success in so many parts of life, why most people don’t do it? Why do so many managers, couples, teachers and more are failing to set expectations correctly?

I don’t have an answer for that. I do know that you can easily differentiate yourself, no matter what it is that you do, by setting expectations.

So, when is the last time you set the expectations up front?