When Explanations Fail You, Try a Picture

A manager in a recent Four Conversations training session approached me and asked, “One of my employees frequently fails to accomplish the things I delegate to him.  Do you have any suggestions for improving his performance?”

“Sure”, I replied, “but first, when you say he fails, what do you mean?  Is he late, is the quality of what he does poor, or is his work incomplete, inaccurate, or unacceptable in some other way? If so, then you may be failing to specify when you want the assignment or what constitutes complete, acceptable work.”

“Mostly the work is not done well even though I explain what I want done very clearly,” she told me.

“Ah”, I replied, “well then you may have to give him a picture of what you want.  You know, a sample of what you are looking for so that he can see what it actually looks like.  When my son was younger, we had trouble with him cleaning his room.  Even though Laurie and I would explain as clearly as we could, he never produced what we considered a clean room.”

“Then one day we cleaned his room and took a picture of it.  We used the picture to explain what we meant by such things as a “clean desk”, “clothes picked up”, and “bed made”.  We then posted the picture on the back of his door with a sign that said “Clean Room”.  After that he was very reliable at producing a clean room.”

“The picture provides the standard and gives immediate feedback.  Sometimes, our requests and explanations are simply insufficient to convey what is wanted.  And when that happens, you have to be more creative and find a way to show people what you want.”

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