“Do you feel like you know what is expected of you?” That is one of my favorite questions to ask employees because it can lead to a lot of clarity.
First, I should acknowledge that I encountered this question while reading, How to be a Great Boss, by Gino Wickman. While I appreciated the whole book, this one question alone made the time investment worthwhile. It also introduced me to another one of his books, Traction, which I also recommend (but that is another story).
Benefits of Asking
When you ask an employee, “Do you feel like you know what is expected of you?” this creates an opportunity for a great discussion and better understanding. If they happen to answer, “Yes,” then you can ask them to share what they understand their top priorities to be. Or you could ask about specific scenarios. If they answer, “No,” then you can share your top priorities and have a discussion about those priorities, including how you can help the employee with them.
In almost every job, responsibilities and priorities tend to change over time. Given that fact, it is worth revisiting this question with your employees at least annually—if not semi-annually or even quarterly, depending on how fluid your work is.
Asking this question also creates the opportunity for you to receive feedback, although it may not be explicitly stated. For example, your employee could say, “I assume you want to review and check all customer proposals before being sent.” At first, you might wonder how your employee could have missed all the times you said that you value people who can work autonomously; and that you see part of your role as helping make that happen. However, if you honestly observe your actions, you might see that you are always inserting yourself or asking to review these things. In essence, the seeming disconnect in the understanding between you and your employee could signal an opportunity to dig a little deeper and find what you have been implicitly signaling to them.
Application Outside of Work
As a bonus, I also find this concept useful when working with my family. When interacting with my children I may ask some variation of this question. I will sometimes ask myself, “How likely is it that they know what I expect?” For example, I might look at the room that they just “cleaned.” Before getting after them about how they did a poor job, I can take a moment to ask myself, “Is it possible that they do think this room is clean? Does their understanding of what I’m expecting for a clean room match my expectation?” Asking myself these questions—and I admit that I don’t always do this right—changes the way I approach my child. Instead of being angry, we simply need to address the discrepancy in our individual understandings.
The same happens in my interactions with my wife and others. I am unlikely to directly ask her or a friend, “Do you feel like you know what is expected of you?” Instead, I can ask myself questions like, “Do I have an expectation in this situation? If so, is it likely that they know what my expectation is? Even if they may know, does that mean they have to honor my expectation? What about their expectations? Am I honoring them?” Again, I don’t always do this perfectly. (Hopefully, my coworkers aren’t reading this thinking, “Do you ever do this?”) But this line of questioning often comes to my mind and helps me approach situations more reasonably.
Whether used with employees at work, or friends and family, I hope you too can benefit from asking, “Do you feel like you know what is expected of you?”. Doing so can bring greater clarity and understanding. It may be a result of you asking the other person, or it may be a result of you asking yourself what they are likely to know. Either way, you benefit from asking the question.