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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #62

Five Assumptions (Or, Worse, Presumptions) You Should Never Make as a Manager ...

During a lunch meeting with a client recently, I discovered something about making assumptions. My client ordered a salad and, based on the description on the menu, it sounded pretty good. However, when it arrived it was swimming in salad dressing. She tried to eat it but it was soggy and overpowered by the dressing. Because we were limited by time, she didn't want to order something else so she put it aside and we continued our meeting. When we mentioned this to the waitstaff, she must've talked to the manager because he brought over a free dessert in an attempt to make amends. He obviously assumed she would be delighted but what he hadn't taken into consideration is the reason she had ordered the salad in the first place ... because she was attempting to eat healthy. The dessert ended up being wasted. His assumption went astray.

This got me thinking. It's so easy to make assumptions, isn't it? Our brains are naturally wired to make decisions quickly and this is evolutionary—when our ancestors were being attacked by a Saber-toothed tiger, they didn't have 7 minutes to make a decision (or Google to ask for help). In the absence of complete information, we fill in the blanks with whatever information makes sense at the time. And, interestingly, once we come to a conclusion, a phenomenon referred to as Confirmation Bias makes it hard to change our minds.

This brings me to the old joke about the dangers of making assumptions: "When you assume, you make an *** out of U and ME." [If you need help interpreting the "***" the clue is in the header image.]

Here's an 'assumption' example to ponder. If you know that 16/64 is really 1/4 but you don't understand the mathematics used to get there, it would be so easy to assume:

But if we made that kind of assumption, would our subsequent mathematical calculations ever put a human on the moon, solve complex problems, help us be financially solvent, or let us enjoy any of the tools and modern conveniences we have at our fingertips? No!

I know this is a bizarre example, but I think it makes the point very well—we like to think that what we believe is true. And to make matters more interesting, if assumptions are frequently incorrect when dealing with logical situations, what do you think happens when emotions come into play?

As leaders, we're expected to make good decisions but, frequently, we make quick assumptions based off of limited amounts of data, which then inform our decisions. The problem with this scenario? These assumptions often lead to bad outcomes.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today), look for occasions when you might have a tendency to assume or presume and do the necessary work to convert these critical assumptions/presumptions into rock-solid facts. Here are five common ones to get you started:

  • Employees Aren't Mind Readers: Many managers assume their expectations are obvious but employees don't know what you expect of them unless you explain it clearly and then confirm their understanding. Osmosis may work in nature but it shouldn't be your strategy if you're looking for solid outcomes. Many times this challenge is exacerbated by our tendency to over-communicate—we inadvertently create confusion by providing so much information that employees can't tell what's important and what's not.
  • Performance Problems = Training Need: This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I find this "assumption"—that training is the solution to every performance problem—is pervasive (and extremely unhealthy). Many managers think (assume/presume) that training will somehow "fix" a misaligned employee who isn't performing and I really wish that were true (but it's not!) The reality is training can only fix a small percentage of employee performance challenges. If you follow the CORE MAP, you'll find fixing performance problems—in most cases—will require a very different intervention.
  • Nothing Succeeds Like Failure™: I'm a firm believer that we learn by trial and error NOT by trial and accuracy. With that said, I'm also aware that many managers assume that their employees know how to fail successfully. Unless a team is encouraged to extract the lessons learned and the "what not to do" elements from every mistake or setback, there's a tendency to hide failure and/or place blame. Instead of assuming your team knows how to deal with setbacks, make this a visible part of all communications with your team by reinforcing these valuable learning experiences.
  • Money is Their Motivator: While money is important, most employees adjust their lifestyles over time to any increase in pay or bonus, reducing the motivational benefit. In fact, if you've studied psychology at all, you know about Herzberg's dual-factor theory. This theory posits that money does not generate "satisfaction" but the absence of money (and here's the dual-factor element) will lead to "dissatisfaction." In the absence of meaningful work (that stretches them), acknowledgment and appreciation for work done, growth opportunities, a safe and optimistic work environment, mutually beneficial work relationships—all things that truly 'motivate'—throwing more money at an employee won't make up for these deficits. They may be less "dissatisfied" but they won't be "satisfied" until these other factors are addressed.
  • No Complaints Doesn't Equal No Problems: Have you ever been surprised when a talented, top-performing employee suddenly leaves the organization? In speaking with managers, I frequently find they assume employees are happy when you're not complaining. Wrong. Most self-sufficient employees don't want to be known as "whiners" or "complainers" so they compartmentalize things that bother them until it reaches a tipping point. And then? They're gone. Instead of assuming your employees are happy, a better approach is to conduct 'stay interviews.' Sit down with your best employees and find out what's going right and what needs to be addressed. You just might be able to use that information to help them stay.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"Your assumptions are your windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in."

— Isaac Asimov —