Communicate Clearly for Reliable Results

What Do You Expect from Me?


 The other day, one of my coaching clients shared something thought provoking. Here’s what she said:

“My team complains that they don’t always know what’s expected of them. They don’t say it flat out, but I get the sense that I’m not always clear in my communication. Sure, we have detailed job descriptions and an official org chart. But expectations are communicated day-to-day in response to changing circumstances. That’s where I need to get stronger.

 They tell me they don’t always have a sense of where something fits in the big picture. That makes it hard to improvise when conditions change. Plus, they’re not always clear who has decision-making power. That means they come to me for guidance about every little thing. And it’s sometimes fuzzy how their work relates to what others are doing. This makes coordination difficult.

How can I get better at communicating my expectations to the team?”

Great question. Is that something you wonder about, too?

It is challenging to make sure people know what’s expected of them in fast paced, ambiguous conditions. But it’s an important foundation of positive and productive team work, so it’s worth paying attention to. 

 This Simple Protocol Increases Reliable Results

 Decades of research on employee engagement by the Gallup Organization find that “knowing what’s expected of me at work" contributes to:

  • 5 to 10% increases in employee productivity

  • Thousands of happier customers

  • 10 to 20% fewer on-the job accidents

Here’s a simple protocol that can help people “know what’s expected of them at work” and increase the reliability of positive results. It’s called Leader’s Intent. And it’s not even rocket science, it’s common sense.

Here’s a graphic of the protocol. Then I’ll go though it with an example. At the end of this post, there’s a link to the graphic that you can print and keep handy.

Leader's Intent.png

The Steps of Leader’s Intent

Situation: The challenge and opportunity we face. “We need to design a day-long team offsite to kick off 2019.” 

Task: What I am asking you to do (and how it relates to what others are doing). “I’d like you to put together a design team to draft a purpose and agenda to run by the rest of the team. Tanya is taking the lead on coordinating logistics. Once you have a rough design, it would be good to talk with Tanya. That way she can arrange for a room, refreshments and technology.”

Purpose: The big picture of what we aim to do and why. “This is a great opportunity to get alignment around our goals for 2019. We can also coordinate team work and spend some face time with one another.”

End State: What success will look like. “At the end of the day, we’ll have a draft 2019 plan and assignments for next actions. We’ll also feel a stronger sense of connection as a team.”

Guidance & Commitment: Decision points, priorities, check-ins. Possible negotiation. Commitment. “This needs to happen in the next 6 weeks, so it’s a priority. Your design team will have decision-making responsibility on the final design of the day. But please get input from the rest of the team and keep the purpose and end state in mind. Let’s check in during our regular weekly meeting.”

Brief Back: Make sure you are both on same page about what’s been agreed on. “So we’re both clear, will you share what you’re taking away from this conversation?”

Still Have Doubts?

 Perhaps this seems too complicated. After all, everybody on your team has worked together for a long time. You don’t need such an elaborate approach to tasking. Did that cross your mind? It is something people have brought up when I share Leader’s Intent with them. Rather than trying to convince you that it works, how about if you try a thought experiment? Bring to mind the last time you communicated expectations in a way that turned out to be unclear. Where could you have strengthened your communication? How might the results have been better?

Here are some things I’ve heard before:

Some people are strong on communicating the task, but don’t emphasize the big picture.That reduces the flexibility for the other person to exercise judgment. It can also reduce engagement. Most people like to have a sense of why they are doing something, how it connects to a larger purpose. 

Other people never give thought to what success will look like. This makes it hard to tell whether you’ve been successful. It can also make it hard to figure out how to accomplish what you’re trying to do.

Often, we omit the brief back. It can make us uncomfortable to ask someone to tell us what we told them. But without it, there’s no feedback that the communication was received as intended. I’ve been guilty of this more often than I care to admit.

Even if you can relate to some of the examples above, you might still be skeptical about whether it’s worth investing the time and energy. Here's a suggestion: Why not print out the Infographic below, bring it to a team meeting and make a commitment to try it for a month. What do you have to lose? 

Leader’s Intent