Have you ever wondered why employee annual reviews become such a he said/she said event? The supervisor tells the employee why they feel they did not achieve the level of success that they "should" have, and the employee fires back with strong conviction about why they believe they did succeed. The simple reason this occurs is because there is a misalignment in how success is defined between the employee and their supervisor.
Over the last eight years, I have been traveling the world conducting workshops to groups of CEOs for Vistage International (the world’s largest CEO membership organization). During these workshops, I have consistently heard CEOs talk about the lack of accountability that their direct reports have to their goals and objectives. But is this really the problem?
To help identify and resolve the problem, I came up with an exercise I call The Alignment Experiment. Here’s how it works:
1) Ask the employees you supervise to independently write down all of the critical tasks they are working on, how success will be defined for each, and when each of these are due.
2) Go back to your desk and write down the same list for that employee.
3) Meet with the employee and compare your lists. If there is alignment, then congratulate yourself for doing a great job ensuring that your employees are focused on the right things and that you have achieved clarity around the success measures for their role. But, if your results are like those of the majority of companies, you are going to find that there is a lot of misalignment, and this is the root of your problem in achieving success and accountability with your direct reports.
Recently, one of the CEOs who I challenged to do this called me and said this was one of the best management exercises he has ever done. He stated that he was shocked by the lack of alignment and expressed how this exercise helped him gain clarity. He discovered that this lack of alignment was the reason he was having so much trouble getting his direct reports to do what he felt they should be doing. He thought he had clearly conveyed to his employees what they should be doing and when it was due, but apparently, he admitted, there was a breakdown in his communication.
So how do you prevent this misalignment from occurring? The answer is quite simple!
Meet with your direct reports for a regularly scheduled one-to-one. The frequency of these meetings depends on the number of tasks and changes that occur with their initiatives. The time between the one-on-ones should NEVER be longer than 30 days, and ideally, they should take place once a week. Don't let the excuse of "we talk everyday" stop you from holding this formal meeting; these everyday conversations are part of the problem! During the formal one-to-ones, have a discussion with your employees about the critical tasks and objectives that they are currently working on. Ask your employee to write them down. Next, discuss and agree on what the desired results are, i.e. how success will be defined for each task. Finally, be sure to discuss and identify a date for when each of these tasks are due. Do a quick review and ensure that you both agree on these items, and then make a copy for each of you. The next and subsequent one-to-ones should repeat this process, with you asking the following three questions for each deliverable (these are Steps 4, 5, & 6):
4) What have you done towards the fulfillment of this task since we last met?
5) What is your plan to accomplish this between now and our next one-to-one?
6) What can I do to assist you with this? And this does not mean doing it for them! It means taking a look at the number of things they are working on (including new tasks that have been added) and taking a reality check to determine if the employee is indeed overloaded, overwhelmed, and perhaps burnt out. This means you may need to adjust the deliverable dates on some of the tasks or provide additional resources to get this done by the due date.
Download our free Alignment Exercise and One-to-One Worksheet here.
The aforementioned CEO told me that this exercise led to one of the best conversations he has had with this employee and that he is now going to do this with all of his direct reports. Give this a try, and let me know what this reveals and how this works for you and your employees.
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