When expectations aren’t met, describe the gap

By Karen Robb, Master Trainer in Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability

Mind the gap

In any given week, many of us experience a situation where a colleagues’ performance doesn’t quite match up to our expectations. The gap between what was expected and what was observed can be anything from missed deadlines to poor performance or even inappropriate behaviour. The approach you take to deal with this gap can define a relationship.

Research conducted by VitalSmarts suggests that employees waste almost £1,000 and an eight-hour work day for every accountability discussion they avoid. Imagine how much these costs sky rocket when you consider that 95% of a company’s workforce struggle to hold these conversations effectively.

Often, the perception is that negative feedback on performance, be it via a formal performance management appraisal or even a quiet word, is anything but constructive.

So, what are our options when expectations are violated?

  • Say nothing – You observe behaviour which doesn’t meet expectations, but you don’t speak up. We tell ourselves that it’s not our place, the other person doesn’t want to change their behaviour or it’s not a big deal. However, when we don’t speak up, we tend to act it out. Whether it’s non-verbal signals or gossiping, we let our emotions and our stories about the behaviour take over.
  • Speak up about what we have observed – You pluck up the courage to say something to your colleague as you want to maintain an honest relationship, whilst solving the problem. Your intentions for having the conversation are well meaning and you believe they will understand where you’re coming from. However, the chances are, they won’t. When we start by describing the behaviour which has been observed, we put people on the defensive. Other underlying issues or stories about a lack of motivation get blurted out and despite your best intentions, the relationship is damaged.
  • Speak up and describe the gap between expected and observed behaviour – The first 30 seconds of an accountability discussion set the tone for the rest of the conversation (and possibly the relationship moving forward).  Through over 30 years of research, VitalSmarts have identified that the best way to hold an effective accountability discussion is to describe the gap between what was expected and what has been observed.

How do we describe the gap, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of option 2?

Describe the Gap, Crucial Accountability

Crucial Accountability

The key is to start by making the conversation safe – when we feel safe in a conversation, we are capable of talking to almost anyone about almost anything. It is important to hold the conversation in the right environment and when you are in the right frame of mind. It is important that your colleague is aware that your intention is to resolve the problem, not to threaten or apportion blame.

When you initiate the conversation, introduce facts about the expected behaviour and the observed behaviour and ask a question that clarifies their understanding of the two and where the gap exists. For example, “We agreed you would have the sales report to me by the end of Friday. It’s now Monday and I haven’t received it. What happened?” It is important not to jump in with opinions or offer possible excuses; allow your colleague to express their own reasoning.

If you can successfully navigate the ‘hazardous half minute’ of initiating a crucial accountability discussion, then you’re half way to solving the problem.

GRA are proud to be the exclusive UK and Republic of Ireland licensee for Crucial Accountability, one of the four VitalSmarts training programme. We are able to offer the programme as a public course and as an in-house training solution, with Train-the-Trainer Certification available. For more information about Crucial Accountability, please visit our website or contact us via: enquiries@gra.uk.com or 01962 779911.

Achieve the impossible through collaboration

GRA_CollaborationWhen up against an urgent deadline, projects can seem overwhelming, unreasonable and sometimes impossible to achieve. Often, teams are put in place to quickly respond to the project’s needs, however under these stressful conditions collaboration can in fact decrease and success is undermined.

Research suggests members of complex teams trying to meet tight deadlines are actually less likely to share knowledge, learn from one another, work flexibly to break up unexpected bottlenecks and assist one another by sharing resources.

On a recent training programme held at our Outdoor Learning Centre, we were tasked with creating an event themed around ‘anything is possible’. So, how could we get participants to identify and undertake positive behaviours, such as sharing best practice and working flexibly, which would help them to successfully collaborate to achieve a seemingly impossible goal?

We designed a day which focused on developing participants’ skills in breaking down the overwhelming project into manageable, sequential steps and collaborating to achieve the overall goal despite a particularly tight deadline.

To achieve the overall goal, we set frenetic and high-energy tasks to develop engagement and create a sense of fun as well as working towards the broader aim. In addition to this bespoke event, the team attempted our ‘structures’ assignment which always provokes new and unique ways at attempting to complete the brief, but often missing the key objective – collaboration. Once we had reviewed the task and run it again, the difference in approach and success was immeasurable.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re told the momentum from the training has carried over into day-to-day work activities. We’re delighted that the team have seen that by working collaboratively, anything is possible.

By Joe Mackintosh, Senior Facilitator & Certified Trainer in Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability

Grahame Robb Associates’ Corporate Outdoor Learning Centre is a purpose built facility, designed specifically to support high impact, experiential learning and development programmes in the areas of leadership, teams, customers, projects and business strategy.