That is a common mistake we all make as leaders and team members. We send an email with a request or even make a verbal request of someone and then we make the assumption that it is going to get done unless we hear otherwise. And thus begins the cycle of commitment and accountability…not! This is where trust can begin to breakdown on teams.
There are many things that can go wrong when we assume we have an agreed upon commitment. One of them is – the effectiveness of your request. That may sound like a silly thing to consider since you have been making requests all of your life. Yet it is amazing how many ineffective requests are made all of the time, such as, “Can you get me that report?” “Will you be able to lead Project X?” or “I’m assuming you’ll get the marketing plan done as soon as you can?” An effective request contains all of the following components: the context for why this request is important or matters, the conditions of satisfaction (what is expected in terms of the outcome of the request), a date the work or deliverable will be done, and a valid response.
There are actually only four valid responses to a request that you make. They are: “yes”, “no” (typically with a why not), a negotiated response (e.g., “I can’t do that by then but here is what I can do”) or a commit to commit (e.g., let me check my calendar and workload and get back to you by EOD tomorrow”). However, many invalid responses are often given instead, such as, “I’ll try”, or “I’ll do my best”, or “I think so”, etc. So trust on teams is not built by one-way communications with the assumption that the request will be done. All aspects of a request (i.e., what is going to be done, why it is important, by when, and with what conditions of satisfaction) must be agreed upon by the person carrying out the request. If you, as the requestor, don’t get agreement to those things and the commitment is missed…it’s on you.
Once a commitment is made the responsibility moves to the person who has made the commitment to fulfill their promise. If that person is not going to be able to make their commitment there is another conversation that needs to be held. It is a simple conversation yet often skipped and is so important in building trust. It is called providing an “early warning” and is, of course, initiated by the person who made the commitment. This is the opposite of the “ask for forgiveness after the fact” conversation. Giving an early warning means that as soon as you know that your commitment is in jeopardy, for whatever reason, you let all people who may be impacted by this potentially missed commitment (e.g., the requestor, the Project Manager, other team members, etc.) know what is going on. Depending on the situation, you can ask for help, renegotiate the date or the team may have to make some other decisions. In order to demonstrate that you are trustworthy, this early warning conversation should occur before the “last minute” when it is then too late to do something “effective” as a result. If you have made a commitment and you don’t provide an early warning, when necessary, we assess that you never made a real commitment. A real commitment means that there is real ownership for the results.
As you read this blog, it may be occur to you that this is all common sense. However, this is yet another example of where common sense is not so common. These breakdowns in conversations happen all of the time and then leaders and teams wonder why trust is missing and performance is not at the level they would like it to be or it could be. And speaking of breakdowns, stay tuned for our next blog (the last in this three part series), which will cover the importance of accountability conversations to creating a high performance culture with a foundation of trust.
In the meantime, take some time to reflect on and observe your own and your teams requests and early warnings. How effective are the requests? Do you and other team members provide early warnings for commitments that are in jeopardy? What will you change to take your trustworthiness and performance to the next level?