Setting Direction - Part 3: What Does It Look Like When Done Well?

What's the Win?

Once the overall direction has been set and the reasons for going there thought-through and communicated, another critical question is this one: What Does It Look Like When Done Well?

Now your first response may be, "Isn't that obvious?" It's actually not. It is assumed, though. And this assumption is the cause of much frustration. Let's look at why this question needs to be put on the table.

1. It defines the win.

It describes success. A common, often exasperating experience in parenting can illustrate this. It goes like this. The parent walks into the room of her teen and says, "Honey, I'd like for you to clean up your room. It's really a mess." The teen balks and counters but eventually agrees to the request. The parent walks back in a couple of hours later to the same apparent level of disarray in the room and exclaims, "I thought I told you to clean up your room!" And what is the teens response? "I did." And she is sincere.

What's the problem? Different understandings and descriptions of what a clean room looks like. Both the parent and teen had different pictures of success. The parent had an unmet expectation and the teen had an under appreciated effort. Mutual frustration was the result with both wondering why.

I've found a good question to discuss in situations like this illustration is, "What does a clean room look like to you?” Listen to the responses. Then share, "Here's what it looks like to me. Let's talk about it so we can agree." That enables both to be on the same page in understanding and expectations.

As I work with leaders, I'll often ask, "What is your role in the organization?" After their response, I'll follow it up with the question, "Now, what does that role look like when it is done well?" Most of the times they just look at me with a blank stare. They've never really thought about it. If they have thought about it, it may be a different understanding than their supervisor. Either case, I'd say it's the leader's fault.

2. This question also adds a level of quality in the win.

What does getting it done well look like with the operative word being well? Again, assumption leads to misunderstanding and frustration. Do you mean by the word well that the job is merely completed? In many cases, that may be the just what you want.

In other cases, it may invoke a higher level of excellence and professionalism that goes beyond merely getting it done.

I've had several executive assistants in my career. One that comes to mind was very dutiful in accomplishing everything I asked her. She was hardworking. She was faithful to complete the tasks assigned to her. Yet, I found myself frustrated with her time and again.

Another one was quite different. I would get into the office each morning, for example, and find a number of email drafts "I had written" in response to emails sent to me. The reality was that I hadn't even seen the original emails much less written a response to them. My staff knew that when it came to business correspondence, Karol would be the one who opened them. Things that she could answer she responded to via a reply "I had written." All I needed to do was look over her responses, do some minor editing, and then sign off on the replies. She was thinking way ahead of me in terms of doing her job well.

What made the difference in my frustration with the first and my satisfaction with the second? My lack of sitting down with the first and talking through what doing her job well looked like. It was my problem. I was expecting her to take the initiative without actually discussing that with her. I just assumed she knew what I wanted. Her frustration stemmed from the fact that she did everything I asked her to do. So why was there tension? Again, it was my fault.

As you lead your team, what does success look like? What is the picture of a job well done? Have you discussed it together? Have you come to a mutual understanding and agreement? Or are you relying upon assumed understanding?

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