Arnold is meeting with Bev, one of his direct reports. She is going over her current projects. Arnold comments that she appears to be overloaded with work that isn’t a top priority. Bev is astounded. But this is what you told me to do, she explains.

I did want you to work on projects A and D, says Arnold, but the other things on this list were just ideas I was tossing around at the staff meeting. I didn’t mean for you to act on those.

How could Arnold, as the supervisor, have aligned more effectively with Bev on what was truly important?

Define strategic priorities. You may be giving unclear direction to your direct reports because you aren’t certain about the most critical priorities. Gain clarity by discussing desired results and impact with your boss and others. Then align your direct reports’ actions with those urgent priorities.

Remember that when the boss speaks, people listen. This may seem obvious, but it’s something that is often forgotten in the excitement of the moment. The boss thinks she’s just generating some potential new ideas. Direct reports can assume that if an idea comes from her, they must make it happen.

Use clear language. Make it plain that if you are brainstorming or giving direction. You may need to say this more than once – at the beginning of the conversation and at the end – to make sure that people get the message.

Gauge people’s understanding by closing the loop. Ask people to re-state what you’ve said in their own words. If you’re not on the same page, try communicating again and have them restate their understanding once more.

Encourage people to ask questions. Some bosses are like seagulls; they “swoop and poop,”  blurting out directions and moving on to the next activity. Make time to answer any questions that your direct reports may have. Don’t just assume they’ll ask for clarification if they need it. Some people hesitate to pose questions, thinking that making an inquiry may appear less self-reliant. Set the expectation that questions are not just acceptable, but an expected part of getting on the same page.

Hold regular check-ins. Schedule time for your direct reports to meet with you to discuss progress, roadblocks or any pressing issue that impacts results. Talk with your direct reports to figure out if weekly, monthly or quarterly check-ins would be best to keep projects moving.

Clear communication is required to define the results that are to be achieved and make performance expectations clear. Achieve mutual understanding with your direct reports by regular, concise and two-way communication that keeps them focused on the right stuff and growing as individuals.Don’t assume that people interpret your communication the way you intended. Remember the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw, The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

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