Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Setting Clear Expectations Prevents Fly-By's

The other day before leaving for a hike I asked my boyfriend if he had his water bottles with him. He said “Yes, I have my water bottle.” I said “No, water bottlesssss. Plural. Do you have them with you?” “Yes”, he said.

We drove for a couple hours to the Summerland trailhead in Mt. Rainier National Park. We laced up our hiking boots, and I swung on my daypack. He fished a bottle out of his car trunk and stuck it in his pack. “Where’s your other bottle?” I asked. “It’s in the back seat, but it’s empty.”

Now, did I make a point of asking him if he had more than one water bottle before we left the house? Yes.
Did I ask him if he had filled both water bottles? No.
Stupid me. I thought it was understood that water bottles would be filled with water before an 11-mile hike up the side of Mt Rainier.

I had two full bottles of water. He had – one half a bottle. Yes, that’s right, the bottle he stuck in his pack was only half full. It had been sitting in his car for a month. Before we left the house he had not bothered to bring his bottles in and fill them. Apparently, it was too much trouble to wait for my Brita pitcher to refill after I had emptied it into my water bottles. On the Summerland trail, there is a bubbling creek, Panhandle Creek. His solution was “I’ll get some creek water and boil it for tea.”

I was livid. “You can’t drink that on the trail! I’m tired of holding back on my water intake! The last 5 or 6 hikes we’ve been on you haven’t brought enough water and I feel like I have to ration myself! And so do you! Why do you think I asked you specifically if you had water bottles with you???!!!”

He was extremely apologetic and for the rest of the hike made a point of thanking me every time I offered him a drink from one of my bottles. (Making me feel small and mean, especially when I had water left over at the end of the hike.) Since then, he's always brought his own two full bottles of water on our hikes. He learns quickly. Plus he’s the best man I know.

So did we have a “fly-by”? Was that “unclear expectations”? Or was he just not listening to me? This last possibility was the one that made me the angriest. The first two possibilities implied that I was partly to blame too, which I really didn’t like to consider.

But, hard as it is, I have to admit: I didn’t make my expectations clear. He answered my question truthfully: yes, he did have two water bottles. I didn’t explicitly state that I expected them to be full of water. Difficult as it may be to understand how my question could have been misinterpreted, this kind of thing happens all the time.

What’s obvious to you is obvious to you. You know what they say about making assumptions. You may not have the best man like I do, who takes the blame, accepts the feedback, and says “You’re such an amateur when it comes to getting mad.”

So be proactive: be clear. Get confirmation that what you are expecting to happen is understood the way you understand it. Make your expectations crystal clear.

Without expectations that are understood and bought into there is no basis for coaching. No basis for asking for accountability. And certainly no basis for blame, recriminations or punishment.

It is the team leader’s responsibility to set clear expectations and ensure that they are understood. And it is the team leader’s and the organization’s responsibility to provide the resources, training and support needed to carry out those expectations.

Here are Effectiveness Institute’s steps for setting clear expectations:

Clear Expectations…

1. Are understood
• Tell the why, what, how, when, where and who
• Clarify the discrepancy between what there is now and what is wanted.

(I should have done this at the house. “Do you have two full water bottles? The last few hikes I felt I was rationing water so I want to make sure we each have enough. This is going to be a fairly long hike and it’s important to be well-hydrated. Ten essentials and all that, you know.”)

2. Are specific and concrete.
• Isolate the desired behavior and results.
• Clarify the measurement.
• Establish time frame.

(“Let’s fill up all four water bottles right now before we go.”)

3. Are realistic.
a. Provide a challenge
b. Can be achieved
c. Are within the control of the employee

(“I know you have to go get them out of the car and wait till the Brita refills. Kind of a drag, but we have time. Or, you can just fill them up with tap water.”)

4. Are confirmed.
• Ask the individual to verbalize what he or she understands the expectation to be.

(“I want to make sure we don’t have any fly-by’s. I want us each to have two full bottles of water for the hike. Are you with me?”)

As a trainer and consultant, I know how important it is to explain the “why” behind an expectation or request. I do it at work. I explain to clients how to do it, and of course, why to do it.

Yet, here in my personal life a simple why up front could have prevented a whole lot of grief, mainly my own!

Why was I asking if Bart had more than one water bottle?

Only I knew. If I had cared to make the effort to share why, I’m sure Bart would have gone the extra few steps to fill his bottles. The same rationale applies to your employees. For a more productive and happier workplace, don’t forget the 4 steps.






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