The One Simple Phrase That Ensures You Get the Results You Expect

The One Simple Phrase That Ensures You Get the Results You Expect

Leaders don't always get the results they expect, but here's how to do it through a simple phrase.

I watched confidently as my boss examined the work I’d prepared for him. A minute passed, then two. At last, he looked me in the eye and flatly said, “This is not what we agreed.”

I stood there dumbfounded. This was some of my finest work, and I knew it. I’d put my best thinking and most focused effort into it. Not only that – I had gone above and beyond what he’d specifically asked for, and tailored my analysis to consider things he hadn’t even thought of yet! I couldn’t believe he wasn’t thrilled with my brilliant work.

Sound familiar? Whether you identify more with my boss or with me, chances are you've seen this movie before. In fact, it’s not uncommon for leaders to feel like their teams don’t deliver on expectations, or for their team members to feel like their work is underappreciated. Despite both parties’ best intentions, performance falls short of expectations. Why does this happen? More importantly, what can leaders do to get the results they need and show appreciation for their teams’ hard work?

The answer lies in the very words my boss used when I delivered my “brilliant” piece of work. There was a lesson in his words – one that I needed to learn, though I didn’t see it right away. In fact, it took me weeks to get the real message, as he calmly repeated the same phrase time and again: “This is not what we agreed.” 

Finally, he sat me down and explained it to me. “Look,” he said, “when I ask you to prepare an analysis in a particular way, it’s for a reason. When you come back with something else, it causes problems because the numbers don’t jibe with the work of others. Can you see how this is a problem?” I had to admit I could. “You’ll notice I always ask for your agreement on your assignments,” he pointed out. He was right about that. Each time he gave me an assignment, he provided clear guidance and asked for my confirmation.

Each time my boss called me out for breaching our agreement, he was practicing an important leadership skill: holding me accountable. And by appealing to the agreement, an objective standard of performance, he was also doing so fairly, in a way that was genuinely respectful. When I didn’t deliver what he expected, he didn’t yell or criticize me. He simply referred to our agreement. The one we had made together.

The key to getting the results that you need as a leader is to stay true to the standard of such agreements. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, reportedly taught this maxim: “As a leader, you don’t get what you expect. You get what you accept.” His point was that when leaders accept performance that is less than their expectations, they necessarily lower their standards, and unwittingly encourage more unsatisfactory work.

Here are three steps to ensure that your team delivers the results you expect. These steps are equally effective whether the assignment is simple or highly complex, tactical or strategic. It also doesn’t matter if you’re assigning work to an individual contributor, or to someone who gets work done through dozens or even thousands of others.

First, be very clear about the outcomes you want. Whenever possible, use numbers to give dimension to your expectations. Invite questions and clarifications to ensure everyone’s on the same page. Check to make sure that the other person’s understanding matches yours, including deadlines and quality specifications.

Second, get explicit agreement about the assignment. That doesn’t mean it has to be in writing. In some cases, a verbal agreement will do just fine. And provided the person’s methods are legal, ethical, and tie to your organization’s values, don’t fuss about how they plan to handle the details. Trust that they have what it takes to deliver the results you want; but offer help if needed, and make sure they have the resources to get the job done. 

Third, when the deadline arrives, ask for an accounting of the assignment. Refer to the original agreement. If the work does not conform, simply say “This is not what we agreed.” Explain why. Express confidence that the person can do the job, offer encouragement, and provide additional instruction as needed. Don’t accept work that falls short of the agreement; ask that it be corrected. By the same token, if the work hits the bullseye, be sure to give generous praise for a job well done. 

When you follow these steps, you reinforce a culture of integrity and respectfulness, which will produce higher-quality results over time. As your people learn to make and honor explicit agreements – both with you and with one another – everyone learns to trust each other. When the leader appeals to the standard of an agreement, rather than criticizing people, that leader demonstrates respect toward those they lead and the significance of the agreement. What's more, by only accepting work that meets the agreement, the leader ensures that they get what they need.

By the way, this approach to accountability is just as applicable to leaders as it is to their people. Effective leaders facilitate their own accountability, encouraging others to hold them accountable for the commitments they’ve made. By walking their talk, leaders invite others to make accountability a two-way street.

Putting this approach into practice is not difficult, but it does require self-discipline. If you’re unaccustomed to using it, start small. Start practicing with relatively low-risk assignments. As you gain more confidence with the approach, expand it to larger, more important work.

Here’s my call to action: identify one small assignment this week, and practice the three steps of accountability. When necessary, use the powerful and fair phrase, “This is not what we agreed.”  My bet is that the results will be magical.

 

 

Sign Up For My Articles

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

Related Posts

How Overloaded Executives Can Make Time for What Matters Most

The price of cutting ourselves short can be very high, but the good news is that we don’t have to live that way forever, even if that’s our usual habit.

Read More

What to Do When Your Boss is the Devil Himself

Although it might be natural to want to get away from a nasty boss, in my experience the best course of action is something very different.

Read More

Six Keys to Life-Changing Feedback

Even though it is not always easy, when you offer and receive feedback with genuine intent, it can be a life-changing gift.

Read More

What Craig the IT Guy Taught Me About Life, Death, and Work-Life Balance

Virtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. Here are four tips from the WW work-life balance initiative I led at Microsoft.

Read More

Values Are The Key to Making Tough Choices

I find that many of my clients figuratively navigate dangerous terrain all the time. In these situations, our values serve as our best compass.

Read More

How Top Execs Solve Their Toughest Leadership Challenges

Leaders want counsel from someone who understands where they’re coming from, and who has the skill to push them to create real shift in their thinking.

Read More

The Four Keys to Earning Your Team’s Trust

Some leaders try to exert their influence through their authority, but great leaders create true followership by continually earning their people’s trust.

Read More

The True Meaning of Courage Isn’t What You Think

True courage is not the absence of fear, a mindset, or even an emotion. It's a principle of action.

Read More

Four Simple Ways to Awaken Your Focus and Concentration at Work

Here are four ways to increase your leadership effectiveness at work by cultivating the skill of consciousness.

Read More

You're Not an Imposter

If you’re struggling with self-doubt, the first step is to tame your monkey mind.

Read More

What to Do When a Rising Star's Team Can't Stand Him

To learn to play well with others, this corporate tyrant had to gain a “view from the balcony.”

Read More

Three Simple Steps for Making the Right Call Under Fire

To know how to respond in high-stress situations, you've got to start by getting into flow – just like a professional athlete.

Read More

Knowledge Is Good – But It’s the Enemy of Great

How openness to being wrong serves as a force multiplier for the smartest leaders

Read More

To Become More Successful, Open Your Eyes to True Success

There are levels of winning beyond just winning.

Read More

Leadership Doesn’t Happen by Accident—It’s a Choice

The difference between being a leader and being a victim starts with mindset.

Read More

Services

Executive Coaching

Team Coaching

John assesses teams through qualitative and quantitative measures, then helps you build the path to high performance.

Build your Team
Executive Coaching

Executive Coaching

John's coaching draws on more than 25 years in senior leadership roles at Microsoft, Novartis, and Kodak.

Maximize Your Potential
Leadership Assessments

Leadership Assessments

As a Certified Practitioner of the Leadership Circle, John utilizes best-in-class tools to assess and develop you and your team.

Learn More