Tom is dead. I killed Tom. It was not intentional, it was more of a potentially avoidable accident.
No, the police aren’t looking for me. There is not a manhunt underway. Tom is my son’s Tamagotchi. Last week I was tasked with pet-sitting the overly needy electronic pet. I promised to feed it, clean up its virtual poo and play with it if requested. Things were going great. Tom was happy, I was happy, life was good. Until it wasn't. I returned from my lunch workout to find a newly deceased Tom.
I promised to care for him. Success was intended. I surely gave it my best effort. I said I would take care of Tom and though I tried, in the eyes of a nine year old, I failed miserably. There was never the guarantee that he would return home to a living pet, only an agreement to hit the right buttons at the right time.
As a leader you listen to the people on your teams. You are the complaint department, the wall used to bounce ideas off of. You are the one they go to request days off, data, and maybe even sticky notes. How can you ensure that you are accurately fulfilling their needs in a timely manner?
- Always Clarify: Unless the request is crystal clear, ask questions to determine what the actual need is. Johnny asks if he can leave today, you allow for it but find out that early meant an hour after the start of his shift, not sixty minutes before the end of it. You do not want to waste your time, or theirs, by putting effort into the wrong task. By digging deeper you may have a more efficient solution or a better way to get them what they need. Committing to understanding the needs of your people shows that you are not just the boss but also dedicated to their success. Just as I wasn’t clear on the requirement to maintain life, make sure that you understand what the ask actually is.
- Do Not Over Promise: Sometimes the answer is just “No”. The company will not provide a third monitor. No, taking the next four days off just because you asked nicely is not approved. One thousand pink sticky notes might be a bit much. Instead of telling them what you can’t do for them, tell what you can. “You can find a hundred blue sticky notes in the supply cabinet”. I can clean up virtual poo but I can not make the pet eat a pixelated hamburger.
- If It’s Important to Them, It’s Important to You: Requests at times may seem a bit extreme. A team member that wants to monitor the daily stats of the whole team. A technician that will only use a specific brand of glove due to the softness of the latex. Seek to discover the why and do not dismiss requests simply because you don’t understand the need. Does Bill need the special gloves because he actually is allergic to the other ones? Does Jen want to see the daily numbers because she is trying to find a way to make the team more productive? While you still might have to say no, engaging in a conversation allows you to let them down easily or provide an alternative solution. I will never babysit Tom again, I can not handle the adolescent wrath.
- Just Do It: You approve a request. You commit to doing something. You promise your employee that you will handle an issue. Just do it. “I’ll take care of it”, or “Let me look into that for you” means nothing if you don’t actually follow through. You will lose the respect of your team and become undependable. Even though it was a simple misunderstanding, I will never be counted on to pet-sit ever again.
Disappointing your team is a sure fire way to make sure they stop asking you for things. When they stop asking, they stop trusting. You are no longer a leader, but an obstacle.
I found Tom’s reset button, bring it on.