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Stop hoping it will get done

Fortune cookies! Ahhhh, that delicious smell of hope and answers hiding inside.

Many managers seem to use the fortune cookie strategy when getting work done through others, and get so frustrated when things don't turn out as they had expected.

STOP: Assuming. Stop assuming anything and everything! Stop it! It's really unproductive.

START: Asking permission to get clarity and commitment from others.

What does that sound like in practice?


Before a conversation or meeting ends, stop assuming that it's clear to everyone present what they have to do. Silence or muffled yeses aren't a good indicator of agreement. It might mean that follow-up actions are clear, or it might mean, "I have no idea what she expects of me, but I daren't say anything now." or "It's sort of clear and I'll work it out on my own". And a thousand possible variations on this.


Asking for clarity on follow-up actions from everyone. It sounds like, "Before we all run back to our various projects, can we each share our individual actions?

Start first, so you demonstrate what you expect from others. It's a 'how much, of what, by when' statement.

"So, my follow-up actions are, I commit to calling Emile by Friday this week, to find a suitable date for our next workshop in September. I will also draft an outline for the report by the end of today, and I will share that with you all by 10 am tomorrow morning." I've underlined the language of commitment. Then nominate the next person.

As you listen, your goal is to catch all conditional language like "I'll try...." "I hope to..." "I'd like to..." Be kind, be very very kind. Ask questions to understand what's causing them to use 'try' or 'hope'. A great question would be "I hear you say try, what's causing you to make it conditional or to doubt it's possible?" And listen to what they say. Help them be honest, as they might be terrified to admit that they haven't fully understood what to do, or have over-committed but didn't dare push back on the workload. In this case, conditional language is a possible cry for help. Support them with their conflicting priorities, "What can you commit in the next two weeks?"

This is where you catch future broken deadlines, growing frustrations, and a lack of accountability.

One tiny way to bake your own fortune cookies.


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