Four Ways to Prevent An Employee Screw Up

Parent: “Did you clean your room?”

Kid: “Yes.” 

Parent: “That includes making your bed… I’m going to come upstairs and check.

Kid: “Uh… wait a minute. Don’t come up yet.”  

Every day this conversation occurs in households around the world. (I have three kids, so it sometimes occurs twice a day.) It is not just at home. This type of conversation also happens in companies between employers and employees. Managing, communicating and delivering on expectations is hard whether you’re a parent or an employee, and particularly as an employer or manager. The disconnect between expectations and interpretation is an ongoing source of frustration for managers and a key reason people fail in new positions.

Unfortunately, I was recently reminded of this after I began reviewing a project an employee had been working on for me. I’d thought I’d given clear instruction and guidance and had checked in periodically about the progress. I had other things going on and expected this person to “get it”, so I accepted it when she said, “Oh it’s going well” … famous last words. I assumed, “Awesome, she has it under control”. Uh… not so much.  

The project was complete, but not in the way I’d expected. To put it mildly, I was pissed. And the effort, aggravation and expense to correct and clean up what was done did not make me a happy guy last week. Whose fault was this? As much as I’d love to throw her under the bus…. In the end it was my fault. Why? As I replayed what I could have done to get a different outcome, I realized I left out a couple of key steps in managing an employee and project properly.

Below are four steps you can use to better manage an employee to prevent a screw up.  

1.     Know what you expect and spell it out clearly - Unless you hire gypsies…. even the best employees aren’t mind readers. If you tell someone that you want a list of hospitals and contacts of key executive contacts in Seattle, don’t be mad when that’s all you get, when you expected names, titles, phone, email and bio.

2.     Communicate the “why”– Giving directions is only half of the battle. Tell the desired end result, use or goal. Giving someone an idea of where you want to end up, why the task or project is important or how it is to be used gives them context and an understanding of why you want something done a certain way.

3.     Don’t leave it up for interpretation. – You say “tomato”, I say, “tomaaahto” Be clear where clarity is called for. 

4.     Inspect what you expect - Inspect progress early and often to correct if necessary. That doesn’t mean being a maniacal, iron fisted micromanager, but rather think of it as quality control. Get in the details. Take a sampling. Don’t make the mistake (like I did) of doing a hallway drive by, “how is it going?” Be thorough and look at several samples or at different stages of the work. It is like making a cake. The cake comes out of the oven perfectly, but that doesn’t mean that the frosting is going to be edible. Inspect throughout the entire body of work  

One of my favorite artists is Dale Chihuly. He works in glass and creates amazing works that are large colorful glass sculptures. The fact is that Chihuly doesn’t sit there and blow or form the molten glass as it comes out of the fire. He is the creative genius behind the work and has a team of employees and artisans to create it and execute his vision. He communicates and inspects everything throughout the process right down to the installation of the pieces around the world. He has a vision, communicates it, inspects it and advises or corrects when necessary from start to finish. Whether you’re a world-renown artist working with a group of craftsmen, an executive leading a team or employee, or a parent or trying to get a child to clean his room…how you communicate and oversee the project is simple but crucial. 

 - Bradley

Let me know what you think. Do you have any other tips that you’ve found to be helpful in situations like this?

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