It’s difficult to stomach, but when your team’s performance suffers, the reason is often you. After all, you are their leader.
Ask yourself these questions. How do I lead? How do I delegate? And most importantly, do I make clear requests? Because how we make requests of others can predict their success or failure.
Mary was consistently a top performer in her company. When she received a promotion, she stepped into managing a team of people that used to be her peers. The transition to a leadership role was disappointing, both in her personal performance and that of the team.
Unfortunately, Mary’s experience is all too common. She was promoted into a management role because she was incredibly successful as an individual contributor. Naturally, her manager assumed that she would be just as successful mentoring and developing others. However, individual success doesn’t necessarily translate into leadership capability. The good news is, despite the fact that leadership skills aren’t always intuitive, they can absolutely be learned.
A very simple tool used to enhance outcomes is to set up systems of accountability through clearly communicated requests and agreements.
When managers are disappointed by performance that wasn’t what they believed it could or should be, it often turns out that they were operating with expectations, rather than having agreements in place.
If we look to Webster’s for a definition, an expectation is a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen, whereas an agreement is the act of coming to a mutual arrangement. The difference is hope versus clarity.
Both new and seasoned leaders can improve team performance and accountability by using a very simple three-step process when making requests.
Engage- Share the “Why” to engage the team member in the objective and what is behind the request. What is the purpose of what I’m asking you to do?
Clarify- Specify deliverables. Clearly identify what is expected and most importantly, when you need it.
Close- Get an answer of Yes, No or a Counteroffer.
Step 1: Engage
Communicate how the request fits into the bigger picture: how it impacts others, clients, timelines, budgets etc. A thorough Engage conversation creates buy-in and commitment versus compliance, which is they will do it because in the end they get paid.
Step 2: Clarify
The Clarify conversation identifies who needs to do what by when, in specific deliverables that can be measured.
Step 3: Close - get a Yes, No or Counteroffer
The final step is closing the request. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is believing they have an agreement in place, when really they gave a “drive-by” task without confirmation that it was clearly understood and achievable.
Without the “Close”, you have nothing more than an expectation. Accountability results from mutual arrangement, not simply the assignment of a task. When you make a request, your team members need to answer either Yes, No or Counteroffer based on their circumstances.
A “Yes” means they can absolutely be accountable to all specific deliverables and the timeline requested.
A “No” is very rare and would be the inability to answer yes. They do not have the capability or level of expertise needed to complete the request.
The “Counteroffer” is an underutilized tool in creating agreements and setting up accountability. Most people will instinctively answer “Yes” when asked to do something by someone in authority. They rarely consider their actual circumstances and whether or not they can fulfill the request. They say “Yes” with the intention to figure it out later.
As a leader, you have to equip your team with the communication tools to be accountable with their answer. Ask them to pause to evaluate whether or not they can agree and commit. They need to look at their calendar and workload before saying yes or making a counteroffer.
You have an agreement in place if your answer is “Yes” to the Counteroffer. You don’t have an agreement in place until you have a mutual arrangement, which means you might need to counteroffer more than once. To close the request, both parties ultimately need to agree with a specific commitment.
What does this mean in the end for a new or experienced manager? If we are consistently disappointed in the performance of our team, we have to look inward and ask ourselves, “What is my responsibility in this? Am I making requests in a way that allows others to be successful? Do I have agreements in place or am I disappointed because an expectation wasn’t clearly communicated?”
An honest answer to those questions may just be what it takes to turn the team around.