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.

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