“You don’t trust me!”
“I do, I just want to make sure.”
“Let me do it my way!”
“I’m only offering suggestions.”
“You didn’t tell me you needed it today!
“If you paid attention in meetings, you’d have known the deadline.”
Yesterday’s conflicts linger like dark clouds threatening another storm.
Sounds familiar? Confusion and frustration add to the stresses of today’s demanding workplace. Combine this with working remotely or multiple gig assignments. We end up rushing by, throw out a statement or two via emails, texts or voicemails and careen to our next obligation. Is it any wonder when we become frustrated because what we got did not meet our unspoken expectations? We are all so busy in and out of work. Honestly, when does the workday actually end?
You can solve most of these problems by practicing a little “Intentionality;” Avoid engaging in ‘drive-by management’ by following these four simple steps:
- Set clear expectations.
- Allow time to dig into the project.
- Stop by and check on the progress.
- Answer questions, clarify, and offer support.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Disappointment, frustration, and anger are all siblings of the same divorced couple—our expectations separated from our experiences. To avoid the next custody battle of placing blames, take a few minutes and set clear expectations. Before your next meeting clarify the following:
- What is needed?
- What is the deadline?
- Where does this fit within existing priorities or assignments?
- Who has the final approval?
- What are the check-in points or flags where they should notify you and raise concerns?
As you outline the expectations, prepare explanations so others know why these are necessary and reasonable. People are amazing at figuring out the ‘how’ to get things done if they believe in the ‘why.’ Taking the time will also clear up for yourself how the requirements lie within the constraints.
As you are setting expectations, make it clear which are flexible and which are hard and fast—must-have versus nice-to-have. Too often confusion arises because team members have divergent views of what is important and what is necessary.
As you are clarifying, strive to engage others. When you make fewer mandates, it strengthens the ones you must make. It is like when people mark every email as important or urgent. Pretty soon, not a single email from them is treated as such.
Close out the clarifying discussion by asking two questions:
“What else do you need from me right now?”
Once you have addressed them, set a time to follow up. This is important because you are setting expectations that this is important, and you will be following up. People work better when they know someone actually cares about what they are working on. I had a friend of mine who sent out the same report for four weeks to see if anyone was reading them. Nobody was.
2. Allow Time to Dig into the Project
After you ask someone to tackle a project, step back and get out of the way. Let them work on it for a while. If you hover about, you are wasting your time and not allowing the team members to grow and think critically. Leaving them alone fosters creativity. If you are there, prompting and prodding, the outcomes will be limited. If you were not comfortable delegating the project, why did you?
First, relax. You have set clear expectations about what, when, how well, etc. So, they understand the required quality standards and constraints. Sometimes, people chaff at outlining constraints thinking it will inhibit creativity. Reality is exactly the opposite. By being clear upfront about the limits of resources, authority, and span of control you release people’s creativity. They know that they are empowered within the guidelines. Too often people do not know where their boundaries are. They limit their scope to ensure they do not overstep their authority. This is especially true with demanding bosses.
3. Stop by and Check on the Progress
After a reasonable time, maybe hours, days, or weeks, depending on the assignment and the resource capabilities, stop by and ask, “How’s that assignment coming along?” “Have any questions?”
You’ll be surprised by the questions that arise. When they left the clarification conversation, they did not know what they did not know. So, they did not have any questions. Once they had the chance to dig in and are familiar with the assignment, many more questions will naturally arise.
The other caution is, do not be an absentee manager either. Too often the manager is so busy ‘managing’ that they are actually abdicating their responsibilities as a leader. Make yourself available to provide support and mentoring. They are absent until the last minute when the project deadline looms large. Panic sets in and what seemed like a mentoring opportunity becomes a frustrating experience where the boss takes over. It demoralizes and deflates the team.
4. Answer Questions, Clarify, and Offer Support
When they have questions, do not second guess their efforts or take over the project. Ask what they have done so far, what have they tried, what do they think is needed, etc. Offer suggestions and support if they are stuck.
Repeat steps 1 to 4 again as needed, to continue to grow the team. It also builds strong, mutually supportive relationships based on trust, mutual respect, and achievement.
Finally, when the project is done, CELEBRATE! Recognize the team’s good work. Debrief the project and use their feedback to continue to grow as a team.