Setting expectations

What Candid Conversations have you had recently?

07 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

- Have you ever told a customer “No”?

- Have you fired a customer?

- Have you successfully communicated to your employees your honest assessment of their performance?

- Have you told employees what you really think they are capable of accomplishing?

When it comes to customers, we often hear the phrase, “Under promise and over deliver.” While the concept is strong, that phrase always strikes me the wrong way to approach things because any time you test the limits of honesty, you have more to keep track of.

What if you had candid conversations with your customers ahead of time and promised honestly and intelligently (challenging their expectations as necessary), delivered as promised, and left room in your time and budget to pleasantly surprise your customers by meeting their special requests, unusual concerns and unspoken needs?

With employees, candid conversations about their performance are crucial. If you honestly believe they are incapable of doing the job, fire them now, and edit your hiring practice to not hire the wrong person next time.

If you believe they can do the job, tell them that and push them to succeed with routine and candid conversations about the goals they need to accomplish (14-30 days into the future – not only yearly goals), their obstacles and how they will overcome them, and your confidence in their ability to proceed. Simple cheerleading never works if you do not help them to uncover their own solutions to the obstacles to progress that they face.

If you see a problem, address it with a candid conversation. Sometimes that means standing up for an employee in their interactions with customers or supervisors, albeit strategically; or standing up for your customers if your employees have not delivered well.

When you think about candid conversations, you may think about the toughest conversation you have had or need to have this week or month. But candid conversations do not occur only once in a blue moon. In reality, they are conversations that build over time, are punctuated by activity and are matured by reality.

Test Understanding – The Secret to Accountability

16 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

If you want to be able to hold others’ accountable, you must have something concrete to hold them accountable to.  Most of the time, people are held accountable to what you expect them to do or how you expect them to act.

This requires that your explanation of your expectations is very clear in the first place.  You can plan what you will say, outline your expectations and speak clearly and concisely, but you will not know if your message has been understood unless you test understanding.

The best way to test understanding is to get the other person to talk about what you believe they agree.  You could ask them to just repeat it back to you, but that is demeaning and doesn’t necessarily mean they really understand it.

Instead, ask open ended questions in a curious and nurturing way to get them talking so you can see what they are thinking:

  • What do you think is the best way to approach this?
  • What is the first piece you are going to tackle?  What is the first step you will take?  The next step?
  • What is your biggest concern about that?
  • When would you expect to have that part completed?
  • What do you need from me?
  • It needs to be done in 30 days; can you map out how you plan to schedule the work?
  • What is it that I can do to help/support you?
  • Why don’t you email me with your status update on Friday?
  • Is Tuesday after lunch a good time to stop into my office to share a progress report.
  • What do you expect to be the hardest/most difficult part?
  • What questions do you have?
  • If… then questions:  We can realistically expect [obstacle] to be an obstacle.  If that happens, what is your plan to address it?
  • What will you need to do differently than what you have been doing?
  • How will you approach this differently than the last project like this?
  • How do you feel we can do this even better/more successfully?

This does not mean that we fail to allow our employees to make intelligent decisions or have some freedom in how they operate. It does however, mean that if they are not doing what we expect, when we expect it, we must first go back and audit our own style of delivering the message in the first place.

By asking even just a few of these questions, you may either be pleasantly surprised with the plan in their head or shocked at how little they really understood the urgency, important milestones and timeline.

I Can’t Say “No!”

05 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Do you take on too much work and accept others’ requests when you really don’t have the time? And are you not able to do your very best work because you are doing too many things at 75%?

Why do you do this? Do you not want to say “No” because you don’t want to miss an opportunity? Or do you not want to let anyone down? Or do you just not know what words to say to communicate, “No!”?

What to do? First, clarify your areas of focus, your goals, and your strategies to get there. Then, consult those resources in order to make the best decision. Use your focus and goals verbiage in your “No” response.

Clear Goals and Focus

If you are very clear about your most important goals and your priorities for the month, and are excited and focused on them, then it is that excitement that causes you to decline or delegate tasks that are not in line with your plan. Your plan is ambitious and exciting, not limiting and holding you back. It guides your conscious choices of how to spend your time and energy.

Put People in their Place

People are important. Your success will require you to work successfully with others, value their contributions and respect their priorities. And you spend time with another person when your goals and focus overlap their goals and focus. Not necessarily when you are asked to take their priorities as your own. You may be asked by your customers or your supervisor to change your goals and plans and may need to do throughout the month. However, a lot of times when you fail to say, “No” it may be because you like the person and don’t want to disappoint them. But, you may disappoint them or another individual when you take on too much, and don’t do anything as well as you could.

What to Say?   First, gather enough information. “Mike, I think I understand your request. Can you share just a few more details of what you need from me?”

Then, frame it. “Mike, I am hearing that this project is very important to Bob’s department, and to turnaround times. This month, Mark has asked me to focus all my energy on the successful interactions with customers through our online systems. I’m very excited about the opportunity to address some long-standing concerns we have heard from our customers.”

What you can do. “It would be early next month before I could start on that work for you, and I would estimate it would take about three weeks. I know that Mary and Patrick are also experts in this area, and their schedules may be more free this month if you need it sooner than I can complete the work. (Only say this if you know it to be true.) What I’d be happy to do is have you circle back with me at the end of the month to revisit this priority.”

And, if you’re Mike, and don’t like that answer, you might say to you:

“Ryan, we all have a lot to do and turnaround time is everyone’s priority. I really need to get this done and you and I have worked on it in the past!”

You feel Mike’s pain, but have a clear focus and path for the month, and in reality, his priority is not yours at this time.

“You are right Mike, turnaround time is a priority and I have enjoyed working with you in the past. The challenge is that this month, I have items that have been identified as higher priority in my calendar. Would you like me to introduce you to some other members of the team who would be valuable resources for you since I am booked up?”

If you fail to clarify your goals for the month, and fail to say “No” to tasks outside your focus area, you will end up with too much on your plate, people upset with you more than they would of if you had found a way to say, “No” in the first place, and work that is not up to your quality standards.

Getting Things Done

28 May
by Bridget DiCello
  • Do you manage your own time well?
  • Do you manage another’s performance successfully?
  • Do you finish projects or is the last 10% a struggle?
  • Is there just too much going on to maintain your focus?

 Commitment and Confidence

With demands from so many different directions, it may seem impossible to stay a course of action and finish anything.  New projects, different priorities and demanding individuals may continually pull you in new directions.

Create the Plan

Typically, even the most organized people fail to plan when they are overwhelmed with the amount they must do.  However, if you invest the time to plan, two important things happen.

  1. You test against reality.  The target date is three weeks from now.  In order to make that happen, we break the project into bite-size steps.  We determine that in order to meet our deadline, we need to complete three steps of the process each week.  Each step takes 10 hours.  Given our other commitments, we test whether or not we do or do not see time to schedule 30 hours each week for this project.  When scheduling the three 10-hour steps, take into account the typical interruptions, emergencies and schedule changes that routinely happen.  Do not ignore your history, or expect history to not repeat itself unless you’ve made significant changes of some sort.
  2. Test your “If…then’s.”  Look at the people involved in the process, the obstacles you expect, the variables that are most ambiguous, and the probable outcomes at each step of the process.  For example, every time you interact with Bradley, he gives you the information you need, but then thinks about it for a few days, and comes back to you with additional valuable and correct data that is important and must be considered.  You know this will take him two or three days from the date of the original conversation.  So, plan for it in the schedule.  “If Bradley is involved, thenhis input will arrive over three days time.”There may be multiple “If…then’s” in each step of the process.  When you know they may or will occur, take them into consideration both in your planning and in your reality checks.

Commit to the Plan

When obstacles come into the picture, don’t be surprised; have a course of action discussed by your project team ahead of time, “When [obstacle] occurs, we will [course of action].” You cannot think of everything, but you can think of a lot of the problems that reoccur.  A majority of issues that occur in any company have occurred at a point in the past in one form or another.  Pay attention to those patterns, plan for them, and commit to moving through them, staying focused on the plan to which you have committed.


The main obstacle to getting things done is often not the processes, obstacles or situational factors.   It is the way the people react to what happens.  Confidence is not an egotistical reaction that ignores reality.  It is a determination and perseverance that we can and we will get it done.  It is not a conversation of if we can, but how we will.  There are plenty of excuses why things do not get done, do not get done completely or do not get done to the level of quality they could have.  The fact is that most of us, given our workload, will accept one of those excuses and let a project stop short of its potential.

What are you working on right now that you are ready to give up on?

For what project do you need to create a plan?

Chain of Events for Obtaining Employee Feedback for their Evaluation

18 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

Top 5 Criteria for Great Performance Evaluations

17 Apr
by Bridget DiCello
  1. Use a form that makes sense.
  2. Require employee input for their professional development.
  3. Document very specific examples.
  4. Use metrics to support your feedback.
  5. Obtain commitment to do something differently.

The best performance evaluations are those that directly evaluate based on the job description tasks instead of rating employees from 1 to 5 on vague things like time management.  Regardless of what form you are required to use, start by looking at their job tasks, identifying specific things they do well and areas in which they need to focus or improve.  Brainstorm for specific examples of situations that demonstrate both their successes and their challenges.   This information can be used in just about any form.

The employee should also evaluate themselves.  I often have them complete the very same evaluation I am going to use.  If there is not a good form for the employee to use for self evaluation, ask them to simply email you five specific examples of times they were successful, and three specific examples of situations to support where they would like to improve their performance.  Give them a deadline early enough to be able to send it back for more detail.

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

If their job is based a lot on numbers, that’s great because it gives you the objective measurement of performance.  Beyond the numbers, and to support the numbers, you will offer your specific examples of when they did well, in other words, what they did to create the good numbers they have or how they handled a customer situation well.  Do the same thing for the not so good numbers.

The specific examples are what make the numbers come alive and become more personal.  Numbers on their own don’t say much, but talking through what makes the numbers what they are, how the employees contribute to the numbers and what they have control over will be significant.

Then, choose no more than 3-5 areas where you would like them to focus during the next 6-12 months (until the next evaluation).  These may be areas where they are strong and have great ability to get even better; could be places where they are failing miserably and need to get on track, or areas where you see greater potential than what they are putting forward – maybe they are scared to screw up or scared to push out of their comfort zone.   These are not 3-5 tasks.  They are areas broad enough to be the focus for 6-12 months.  Each month or quarter, you spend time with the employee to identify the specific tasks they are to do to make progress on the broad areas.

You determine these 3-5 areas based on your observations combined with their input.  Then, they come up with specific action items that they will implement in the next 30-90 days to make progress on these 3-5 areas.  These must be things that they will do differentlyTrying harder will not cut it.  They should come up with these, with your coaching assistance, buy in and commit to them.

Best Meetings – Small Scope, Big Expectations!

10 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Have you ever been to or led a meeting that ran really long in an effort to make it through the whole agenda?  Or one that ended on time but most agenda items, including the ones you were interested in, were never addressed?

Every time you have several people in a room, you have multiple priorities, opinions, preferences and styles which will ensure that nothing will get done as quickly as you might be able to do alone.  However, the richness of those dynamics is worth the tradeoff, but your expectations must be realistic.

First, you must expect people to want to share their opinions and concerns, and time must be built into the agenda for that to happen.  If they are expected to simply sit and listen, then that must be communicated ahead of time to avoid frustrations.  If you’d like to guide their participation, add specific bullet points to the agenda to do so.

Then, you must define the scope of the meeting to be small enough to realistically be completed.  People like to walk out of a meeting feeling successful.  If your expectation of what you can complete in 45 minutes is always too high, and nothing ever seems to get resolved, your participants will get frustrated and productivity will decrease further.

Consider what you expect to accomplish; then break it into parts.  You wish to discuss Project A.  Project A has many parts.  Maybe the scope of the first meeting is to identify the main parts of the project, the key activities, define the milestones and the responsible people.  The responsible people could get together at a future meeting to discuss their individual accountabilities and timeframes.  Keep the scope manageable within in your meeting timeframe.

Small scope does not mean small expectations.  When you discuss Project A, your expectation may be that it is approached from several new directions, everyone contributes to identifying key activities, each person excitedly accepts a key role and milestones are clearly defined – which is a challenge in many companies.

In order to realize those expectations, they must be communicated prior to the meeting in a written agenda, and possibly an invitation phone call; must be reiterated in the agenda and at the start of the meeting, and revisited throughout the meeting as they are accomplished.

A small scope in no way means that very little will be accomplished.  It simply means that you will do an amazing job of discussing, brainstorming and working on results relating to a small piece of a larger puzzle.

If your meetings appear unproductive, remember Small Scope, BIG Expectations!

When the Conversation is Not over…

16 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Hey!  Has anyone ever wrapped up a conversation you were not done having?  Have you felt like you were making progress in a discussion only to have the person to whom you were speaking decide the results were good enough and leave?

Results.  A good conversation has great results.  However, you cannot stay in a conversation forever, waiting for those great results to happen.  People wear out.  Some people will talk forever and never get to a solution.  Others will talk for a minute or two and be done discussing a situation.

Personalities.  Depending on which of those descriptions more accurately represents you, you might find yourself either ending a conversation when the person with whom you are speaking is not done, or needing a longer conversation than the other person is willing to tolerate.

If either person in a conversation is not done, that need must be identified and acted upon in order to bring about the long term results that you want.

What to do?

It’s okay to wrap up the conversation if time is up, either person needs to go, or one person is done.

It’s not okay to ignore someone’s need to continue the conversation at a later time.

It is a good idea to take a break if one person needs it, and acknowledge you are doing so in order to ensure productive use of everyone’s time.

It is not a good idea to leave without some type of summary.

It is a good idea to determine next steps for each meeting participant.

First, ensure you start the conversation with a clear goal in mind.  That goal can be referenced to keep the conversation on track, identify next steps, and if needed, determine the need, and the agenda, for a follow up meeting.

Then, when there is either 10% of the meeting left or when one person gets fidgety, start to summarize what has been accomplished, identify any unmet needs and schedule a follow up meeting if needed at a future date.  The steps each person will take before the next meeting, and the agenda for the follow up meeting should both be clearly identified, committed to and agreed upon.

Simply escaping a conversation does not mean it has finished, and could cost you a lot more time in the long run.

Egotistical Jerk or Passionate Leader?

14 Feb
by Bridget DiCello

If you’ve ever had the boss who has said,

“My way or the highway!”

“…because I said so!”

“That’s just the way it is,” and

“Get it done yesterday – I don’t care how!”

you may be hesitant to come across like a demanding jerk to your employees.

Jim Collins in his description of a Level V Leader says that level of leadership is attained by a humble yet passionate leader.

So, when do you get tough and lay it on the line, even to the point of saying, “That’s just how it is!” to your employees?

You know you’re being a jerk when…

  1. There is a self-serving motive behind your rant like ego preservation, desire to win/they lose, or desire to intimidate.
  2. You do not take the time to let them speak
  3. You honestly don’t care what they think and don’t feel like they can contribute despite their subject matter expertise.

You know you are being a passionate leader when…

  1. You listen curiously and with genuine interest to what they are saying, combining empathy with high standards in your head.
  2. Your blood pressure starts to rise because they have/or continue to do something hurtful to accomplishing the company vision/mission/goals.
  3. You respond carefully and choose your words to avoid being hurtful AND present the mission/vision component with passion because that is the reason why their behavior is a problem.

You can get excited and passionate about your core values, vision, mission and goals.

You cannot scream and yell because someone made you mad and has frustrated you.

You can get determined and definite when what an employee did interfered with overall accomplishment of goals or the way you want your company to operate.

You cannot get miffed, sarcastic and rude because someone kept you personally from meeting your goal.

The mission, vision and core values of an organization are its backbone – the reason it exists and how business will be conducted.  This backbone is something to get excited about and no one will fault you if you get passionate and determined about it, as long as you treat them respectfully (no yelling, swearing, sarcasm, personal attacks or demeaning comments).  You may even appear egotistical if you are personally very invested in the core values and vision.  But a drive towards an admirable vision is always about more than just your desire to accomplish it, and that will come through to your team.

Plan for Consistency in 2012

04 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

When writing goals, the focus is on what we want to be different, how things will be improved and the areas we want to tackle in the upcoming quarter or year.  However, it’s important to not overlook what you really want to remain consistent.  Things that have enabled you to be successful this year and in the past might be taken for granted.

Doing the same things and expecting different results is the accepted business definition of insanity.  But more than that, doing the same things and expecting even the same acceptable results may be a lot to ask.  Things change.  People change.  Things do not stay the same.  People are not machines and consistency must be purposefully planned for.

What are the core components of your success that you need to remain consistent in 2012?  What is it about your approach, your systems, your customer service, your processes and your values that are the keys to your success?  Do you know?

When writing your goals for the upcoming month, quarter or year, take an inventory of what you consider to be your keys to success, identify the most important components, and determine what it is that will ensure continuity.

What is it that has brought you success?

  • If it is a single key employee that makes things happen, cross-train others.
  • If it is the way a process is running, document it, create checklists if necessary and ensure your team knows how important how they are doing things really is.
  • If it is the connections the owner, managers or key employees have nurtured, pinpoint the key activities that make those possible, should a key person take on a new role or need to leave, or you wish to increase the results you are achieving.
  • If it is your management team’s ability to make good strategic decisions, determine what makes that possible and expand the number of people with these capabilities.

If you want consistent success, the components that have made you successful need to be purposeful and routine.  If creating processes or systems is not in your nature, you need to task someone on your team with those skills with the role of pinpointing and systematizing those key components.  Otherwise, when a part of your success begins to slip, you try to play catch up, which may distract you from the new and exciting goals you have set for the future of your team.

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