Go to the end of the street, take a left, go down a few blocks until you see a small bridge, just over the bridge to your right there will be a small brown building with the name Floyd on the front. Turn on the street next to the brown building, the name of the street is Oliver Lane. Then drive down to the fifth house on the left and that is where Mark lives. Got it? You reply, yes and drive away.
Now I want you to try this with me. Close your eyes and repeat back the directions I just gave you. I’ll wait… OK, how did that go? Were you able to recall the directions exactly or did you miss a few turns? Chances are you were not able to repeat these directions back 100%. Now, reread them take notes, not mental notes, actually write them down. Now turn that piece of paper over and rewrite them just as you recall them. I bet you got them all right this time, if not I bet you were very close. This is my last ask, I promise; go up to first paragraph and reread the directions out loud. As long as you were reading them word for word what you spoke was 100% accurate. So in this hypothetical scenario if you were indeed trying to get to Mark’s house then reading them word for word would be your best hope for not getting lost. So why is it that when we have something important to achieve at work we often see people trying to commit the steps or objectives to memory? Somewhere along the line in the spirit of efficiency we have ditched the old fashioned skill of note taking or meeting minutes. Is it any wonder that five people go into a meeting and five people walk out hearing five different things and when we come back together we spend the majority of the next meeting rehashing what we covered in the meeting before?
Our lives are so fast paced and we are expected to process so much information at any given minute how can we expect ourselves to really achieve maximum results when we are going off memory? I will give you an example. My teams are trying to work through a 26 month plan right now that impacts every facet of their job. If this plan is carried out correctly they have the potential to change the way that the organization responds to the needs of our customers. We started this journey with a high level plan. Each phase of the plan has goals, objectives and success criteria documented. We know where we are going, the vision is clear. What is not clear are the details of how we get there. To link it to my directions analogy we know we are going to Mark’s house but for us, the actual streets and turns are to be determined. The details are where the hard work begins. What I have heard most since I laid out this vision are things like “I am still not clear on what this means to me.” “What are we supposed to be doing at this point in the plan?” I often feel like the guy who gave the directions to Mark’s house. I mean how hard can it be you just “Go to the end of the street, take a left, go down a few blocks until you see a small bridge, just over the bridge to your right there will be a small brown building with the name Floyd on the front.” Well, you get the picture.
The truth of the matter is that as a leader I have to walk out the behavior I expect of others. I have to document what I am saying. I have to document what is expected and at times I have to be willing to say “Move over I will drive you there.” Yes, there is a fine line between empowering others to help carry out your vision so they feel invested while at the same time understanding that at the end of the proverbial day you are 100% accountable for the delivery of this vision. We need to challenge each other to take notes, communication clearly, repeat the ask and repeat the understanding. Be willing to be the one in the room that says “Now let me make sure we all heard the same thing,” and get up and write it down on a white board. We cannot just sit there and assume that everyone will walk out of the meeting on the same page. We most certainly cannot afford to keep having meetings that rehash the last meeting.
In closing, we have all heard the jokes about men refusing to ask for directions. And while this post is not about men solely, as a man I have to own my part. According to the British insurance firm Sheilas’ Wheels, the average male motorist in Britain travels some 276 extra miles per year simply because he refuses to ask for directions. If I could find a study of how many hours we waste in the corporate world because we do not take notes, or we do not clarify before we leave the room I would venture to say the numbers would be astounding.
The point I am making is this, in our fast paced information overloaded lives do not leave your vision or critical business problems to chance. Take notes, clarify and require that of your staff. Do not allow your staff to come into a meeting with you without a device to document and always wrap up a conversation or meeting with a recap and next steps.