Founder, Living & Leading Accountably. Growing leaders, teams and results! Executive coaching, leadership development, change leadership.
Have you ever been surprised that a team member didn’t deliver on an expectation only to discover that each of you interpreted the expectation differently?
In our R.E.S.U.L.T.S. model, “E” represents “expectations.” In the first article of this series, I defined expectations as “defining and communicating specific outcomes, standards and agreed-upon measures to provide clarity so that people align behavior and achieve results.”
In this article, I will explore the relationship between expectations, results and a culture of accountability.
My partner and I had mapped out our accountability team coaching program. We had defined our pedagogical and team coaching approach, our standard module structure and length, and we’d storyboarded it. Now, it was time to write specific modules. We’d need to merge our writing styles to produce one voice, so we built in review cycles. We had clear and mutually understood expectations…. or did we?
Before you know it, we were each writing portions of a module for which the other was accountable. We had not considered our implicit assumption that each of us would have great ideas and that we could work them in. We stopped, clarified and agreed on a process to contribute beyond our storyboarding. This checkpoint allowed us to produce the desired result.
How often have you thought you had mutually understood expectations only to learn that clarity was elusive, efforts were wasted and results were muddied?
Questions you can ask yourself to clarify early and to check in over time are:
1. What, specifically, is the intended result?
2. How clear am I about the expectations I have of others? How about the expectations they have of me?
3. What implicit assumptions lie waiting?
4. What might get in the way of meeting my/the other person’s expectations? (In our case, our excitement got in the way.)
What might you do to ensure clearly and mutually understood expectations? Let’s look more closely at the relationship between expectations and results.
ER: Expectations And Results
As the accountability team coaching program story illustrates, expectations drive results. While our R.E.S.U.L.T.S. model encompasses seven elements of accountability to drive results, we have found with our clients that the two most common and most significant gaps are:
1. The result is poorly defined, and,
2. Expectations are not explicit enough. Too much is left to interpretation.
Both gaps cost leaders time and money and often upset relationships in the process. All three of these costs keep teams from consistently delivering intended results on time.
So first things first. What is the result that you are driving for? How specific do you need to be in order for you and your people to know who is accountable for what? If you’re not clear here, invest more time thinking and talking it through. If you want to be clear about the broader result, like generating innovative ideas (e.g., sending a human to the moon within 10 years), that’s great. If you want to be more specific in that you need an innovative solution to problem X (e.g., build a space ship that will get a human to the moon and back safely), perfect. It is important to know how broad or specific the targeted result is to create focus, momentum and joy in the process and in achieving the result.
In the story I shared above, the broader targeted result was to together produce a quality accountability team coaching program in two months. The more specific result was to write the modules according to the methodology, length and storyboard (specific) and to do so as efficiently as possible. The examples used in the modules needed to be relevant and non-repetitive (general). Having clearly stated intended results and explicit expectations contribute to a culture of accountability by focusing energy.
ER And A Culture Of Accountability
Although it takes more than a clearly defined result and clear and mutually understood expectations to have a culture of accountability, a clear ER goes a long way. A clear ER lays the foundation from which to constructively check on progress. It supports effective execution when we can identify where more clarity is needed, how learning can be integrated, and where course-correction is required. A clear ER gives both leaders and their people a roadmap to measure progress and support accountability.
Linking Your ER With Accountability
If you believe that accountability in your organization needs to be stronger, consider these questions:
1. How can you make your desired outcome clearer and more specific?
2. How clear have your people said you are on expectations in the past? What might you do to get even clearer?
3. Do you check for implicit assumptions – yours and theirs – embedded in your expectations?
You’ll have a good indication of the degree of mutual understanding of expectations and intended results once you’ve made your implicit expectations explicit and you’ve asked others to share their assumptions. You’ll have confirmation of your ER clarity as the progress toward results is measured, and accountability will increase in your company.
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