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The What, The How, and The Outcomes

Jan 31, 2020

by Tai M. Brown

Imagine starting a new job, and as your boss is finally walking you to your new office, she points to a sign in the hallway and says, “We have one rule here, and that sign spells it out perfectly.” As you consider your new workplace, coworkers, and new leadership, you wonder if you have made a good decision by taking this job. When you sit down at your desk, you notice that the sign your boss pointed to earlier is just visible enough outside of your office to be significant. But, it’s what she did before showing you the sign that prevents it from being intimidating.


Before pointing to her sign, she very diligently explained the role and responsibilities for your new position. This was critical step for her to create the environment for you to be successful in the organization. And, it was of the utmost importance because the role of a leader is to create and maintain an environment that people want to be a part of.


Anyone who follows the National Football League knows of the perpetual success of the New England Patriots, who are led by the legendary head coach, Bill Belichick. Although Belichick has earned a reputation for being short with the media, when it comes to organizational achievement, he has a long list of accomplishments. Belichick’s success is owed, in part, to one thought that he implants into everyone’s mind – “Do Your Job!” This motto sounds simple. Because of the organization’s success, it is easy to assume that players, coaches, and administrators get hired into the organization and immediately function at a championship level. But the reality is that Coach Belichick must do his job as a leader before anyone else in the organization can effectively do theirs.


When onboarding new employees, especially those coming in at the entry-level, one of the first and probably most important things to do is explain the responsibilities inherent to their position and how those responsibilities will help the organization succeed at executing its purpose. Additionally, to give this person an opportunity to be successful within the organization, he or she must also know how those responsibilities will be evaluated. I call this Expectations-with-Evaluation – an important aspect of a bigger principle called Descriptive Expectations.


In The Blueprint for a Successful Career: A Foundation for Developing Young Professionals, Descriptive Expectations is one of the first and most important tenets of my Forward Management (FM) philosophy. FM is rooted in the following two-pronged premise: the role of a leader is to create and maintain an environment that people want to be a part of; and if you are an effective leader, those you lead will go on to become effective leaders themselves. FM also draws on the combination of the concepts of accountability and Expectations-with-Evaluation. I define accountability as the responsibility of the individual for the actions of the whole, and the responsibility of the whole for the actions of the individual. Essentially, accountability is the glue that keeps a team together.


Descriptive Expectations – How will you evaluate your staff? Now that you have made the hire, you will need to explain the responsibilities of the position, and more importantly, define the standards of performance for how you expect the job to be done. Doing these two things effectively leaves no grey area when it comes time for staff evaluations, because by doing so you have essentially laid the foundation for organizational accountability. You will find that after defining expectations and explaining the responsibilities of the job, people will do one of the following four things: 1). Do their job 2). Excel at their job 3). Choose not to do their job, or 4). Realize they do not have the ability to do the job.”


Within Descriptive Expectations, there are basically two notable functions:  the “what”- explaining the responsibilities of the position, and the “how” - defining the standards of performance for how the job should be done. It is also very important to ask and confirm that each member of your staff believes he or she has the resources necessary to execute what you expect of them.


Similar to Belichick’s, “Do your job,” Descriptive Expectations is a concise summary of an essential component of the onboarding process in an exceptional work environment. With the four possible outcomes mentioned above, I propose that this concept is essentially a personnel filter for any type of organization.


Consider this filtering method for a moment and think about the following question: what happens when an employee is not given this opportunity to be successful in his or her new position within an organization? A lack of expectations can lead a self-motivated overachiever to frustration if benchmarks for overachieving are not clearly defined. Further, if regular evaluations are based on the subjective opinions of a supervisor, how do employees know if they are effectively helping the company execute its purpose? 


To answer this question, I will try to reverse engineer the process outlined in Descriptive Expectations. The following scenario essentially puts the onus on the employee to establish expectations if they are not defined by a supervisor. That is, assuming an employee has the motivation to do such a thing.


In the less-than-ideal situation where a supervisor has failed to define expectations, it may be wise for employees to create their own standards of performance based on information provided in the job description and experiences garnered over the short period of time they have been in the position. This process may take some thought and cause some frustration of its own, as doing the supervisor’s job of explaining expectations isn’t what a new employee signed on to do. That being said, this exercise may be good practice for the future when that individual has progressed to a leadership role.


There are a few steps to an endeavor such as this. The first is to identify every responsibility from your job description that could be considered a formal function of the position. Next, identify every responsibility you have been asked to do that is an informal function of the position. Compile the two lists together and prioritize (as much as you can with respect to your experience up to this point) the tasks that are essential to both your success in the position and the overall success of the organization. After making this list, you will want to schedule a meeting with your supervisor. 


During the meeting, present your compilation of prioritized responsibilities, and ask if these are the items that should be the focus of your time while at work. If so, your next question is to ask for performance measures on those designated items. Keep in mind, the aspects of the job that you think are important may be secondary to what the supervisor considers your primary job responsibilities. Either way, you want to leave that meeting with a list of tasks that your leader has identified as priority, and more importantly, you should be leaving with an idea of the performance measures that you will be evaluated on in the future.


Thinking about this from an organizational perspective, one could wonder what this implies about the supervisor in this scenario. The answer is, it doesn’t have to imply anything. Should you find yourself in the role of the supervisor in this meeting, do not think of this as a poor show of your ability to lead. Rather, you just found out that you have a highly motivated employee on your staff. Considering that this person has given input in how they are going to be evaluated, the level of “buy-in” to his or her new position has most likely increased significantly. In addition, you have allowed them to give feedback, involved them in the process of potentially improving their quality of work, and given them the opportunity to help execute the company’s purpose. All these things help to make someone feel as if they are contributing to the overall success of an organization. One or two instances of the aforementioned scenario does not signify poor leadership, but a pattern of this could leave your employees feeling overlooked and possibly undervalued. Considering the current turnover rate of today’s workforce, you could find yourself doing a lot of hiring if this oversight is part of your standard operating procedure. 


As I noted earlier, “The role of a leader is to create and maintain an environment that people want to be a part of.” An essential aspect of creating an attractive environment, is to make sure everyone who is a part of it (including the leader) knows exactly what they need to do, and how they need to do it, to be successful. Further, as new staff members try to establish themselves as rising stars in an organization, they should look for ways to enhance their journey by ensuring that they will be evaluated by the appropriate measures.


So as you are sitting down at your desk, in your new office at your new job, it should come as no surprise that your new supervisor is a big New England Patriots fan. Accordingly, before pointing to her sign, an artistic rendition of Belichick’s one rule, she spent ample time with you explaining your role in the organization and how she will measure your success in executing that role. With your role spelled out for you and an understanding of how you will be evaluated, your supervisor has essentially given you one choice - if you aspire to contribute to the success of the organization – Do Your Job!