Speak in Terms of Objectives – Not Actions
Have you ever been in a position where a project you were managing was late or over budget? Have you ever supported an application that had a customer impacting service outage? How did your boss respond to these issues? Did she say something like “I want a review of our quality strategy” or “I’d like to see our application rollout strategy”? Maybe they asked for something even more nebulous and less connected to the issue at hand like “Show me our site and product integration strategy”. Huh? What does that mean?
It’s easy for managers to react to incidents and problems by requesting that certain actions be taken by a person or team. The problem with such an approach is that it feels like a punitive action to the people from whom the action is being requested. Maybe the group or person needs to receive performance feedback, but by asking them to take an action you are not really giving them feedback. If your goal is to both provide feedback and ensure the underlying issue is corrected then provide candid performance feedback and explain the desired goal of the corrective action.
Great leaders understand intuitively that they should speak in terms of desired end states and then ask for plans to achieve those end goals or states. Another approach is to use the Socratic Method and ask your team what an appropriate end goal should be, whether they’ve achieved it and how they should correct their approach to achieve that goal. The first is probably the best approach when the team is overwhelmed or you are in the middle of a crisis. The latter approach is best for higher performing teams who have simply hit a “bump in the road”.