Are you surprised when your team sometimes does things or behaves in ways that are diametrically opposed to what you believe or hope that they will do? When you see this, do you think that they should have known better since you’ve overtly communicated the expected behavior in such circumstances—maybe even several times?
I once worked with a rock star executive who always got the deliverables done, but left a lot of broken glass. For example, she would have one-on-ones at odd after-hours, which was insensitive to people’s time and out of character for how the company wanted to treat people. I addressed this time and again. Since it never changed, I was worried that I wasn’t being overt enough. Apparently, in this case, I was. She said, “I hear you, I just chose to do things differently.”
But other times, people aren’t making their own choice; they simply aren’t aware that their behavior isn’t in step with your expectations. I met with a company recently and the discussion centered on how their manager scores had dropped from year to year. In researching why, it was discovered that although everyone thought that managers were doing the basics, such as having one-on-ones, holding staff meetings, and giving feedback, many managers had actually not been doing them. The reason? It had been assumed, but never overtly stated. No one told the managers they should engage in these practices and do them effectively. Managers weren’t doing it simply because it wasn’t conveyed to them that it was important. Upon realizing this, the company fixed it fast by stating the importance of these tools in everyone’s plan and making sure they understood it was a priority.
I’ve been guilty of making the same “assumption” mistake. Recently, I received a complaint at my investment firm on how we didn’t get back to a company with a response. I was surprised, as this is totally out of phase with our values and how we want to treat people. Having said that, I took a step back. I realized that I didn’t reiterate the importance of this behavior in a long time. I thought it was in muscle memory, but I learned I couldn’t rely on that. This situation reminded me of the importance of constantly reiterating the message. The mistake provided a good chance to refresh the team on the importance of this behavior in an overt manner, and I’m confident it won’t happen again.
Meg Whitman, whom I worked with for many years at eBay, recently reminded me how when it comes to values, if you think you’re reciting them too much, it’s still probably not enough. Information gets lost in complex organizations, and one of your roles is to ensure the core messages of what you’re doing, and what matters, are understood and echoed by everyone in your organization.
When behavior is at odds with expectations, do the following:
• Decide whether the expectations of behavior have been communicated clearly and recently. There’s always a lot going on and the most important things need periodic reinforcement.
• If communication hasn’t been done, now is a good time to start doing so.Approach this calmly and professionally.
• If communication has been done, figure out what’s causing the split between your desires and the actual behavior. Sometimes, the expectations may be unrealistic, but often the behavior was different than expectations either because the expectation wasn’t ingrained or because it was consciously disregarded.
Own your part to ensure that communication will be done effectively and repeatedly, and take steps to make the expectations overt and hold people accountable. When there’s a disconnect—regardless of the root cause—as a leader, it’s up to you to correct it.