I have lifted this question straight out of the book written by Marcus Buckingham called “First Break All The Rules”. Despite having an off-putting title the book is worth reading, not least because of its association with The Gallup Organisation and the fact that it is based on the organisation’s extensive research over many years.
Do I know what is expected of me at work? Is one of those great questions that looks oh so simple at first glance but is far from simple when you are forced to think about it in any depth. As an employee, what am I employed to do? What is expected of me? How will I find out? How will I know if I am doing it and who is judging me anyway, and what does it matter whether I am or am not living up to expectations?
The leaders, the bosses among us probably think the answer to this question is obvious. I have found that they always do! The question is phrased from the team member’s viewpoint. That is what makes it such an incisive question. But is it obvious, is it really? Some years ago, I was working with a company that distributed pallets and we were discussing their driving team when I asked the simple question. “what is the job?”. You can imagine the looks that I got. The long-serving managers and supervisors thought I had completely lost it. ‘Everyone knows what a driver does.’ they scolded me, and went on to tell me how a good driver could, park, load, manoeuvre, drive safely and accident free etcetera. Absolutely confident that the answer was obvious. So I asked them, ‘If I could find someone who could do all of that perfectly would I have found your ideal team member?’ and I was assured I would have done. Their attitude changed when I asked ‘what if they were tattooed and pierced all over, had obvious personal hygiene problems and suffered from raging Tourettes?’ ‘Oh of course they wouldn’t suit’ they replied.
You see driving a truck is what the team member does but what the job is about is so much more than that. We calculated that about 85% of the client company’s contact with its customers came from its drivers and therefore about 85% of the impression it created was as a direct result of the drivers’ interactions with the client base. Suddenly they could see that the job was so much more than just driving a truck. It almost always is, but if we haven’t thought it through well enough, we can’t define the expectations and if we haven’t defined the expectations clearly what is the chance that any team member can guess what those expectations might be?
I recommend the use of Job Descriptions in businesses as they provide clarity. In the Job Descriptions that I prefer, the bit (possibly the only bit) that really matters is the one or two lines under the heading “The Main Purpose of the Job”. This is where the absolute clarity should be found. Your team members should be able to turn to this section of their Job Descriptions to be able to answer the question. Can they? In the example above there was absolutely no reference to looking after the customer or being an ambassador for the company in the Job Descriptions where they existed, if they existed. Is it any surprise that there was a challenge in this whole area of their business?
Mark Twain once apologised for writing a long letter, he said that he could have written a shorter letter if he had had more time. It takes time and effort to be concise. It takes time and effort to gain the level of clarity needed, particularly in this kind of example.
So, ‘Do I know what is expected of me at work?’ is not such a straightforward question.
Do you know, clearly and concisely, what is expected of your individual team members? If not, how could they possibly know?
Have you communicated it, clearly and concisely?
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