Don’t Make Assumptions
There is a story of a lumber yard owner who was convinced by a young kid to give him a chance. The lumber yard owner was skeptical because he thought the kid looked puny and probably couldn’t do much, but he took pity on “the kid” and gave him a chance. He told the young man, “Okay, I’ll give you a chance. Here is a new axe, go see what you can do.”
Much to the yard owner’s surprise the kid was able to cut down 10 trees. His best lumber jacks might be able to knock down 4, maybe 5 – but this kid cut down 10! He was pleased with the work and offered him a job. The next day the young man chopped down 8 trees. The lumber yard owner thought, well it’s less than he did yesterday, but still more than anyone else, I’ll take it.
Each day the young man seemed to do less and less, and it was concerning the lumber jack owner because the prior day the young man had not even chopped down a single tree. The young man still looked eager and seemed to be putting in all of the energy as the days before. His approach to the work had not changed, so the lumber yard owner pulled the young man aside to ask him what was happening. The young man replied with, “I have no idea! I am still doing what I did the first day. I just don’t understand.”
The lumber yard owner asked to see the young man’s axe, and he saw a very dull blade and realized what the problem was. He assumed the young man knew to sharpen the blade at the beginning of each day.
Don’t make assumptions
The third of the four agreements is don’t make assumptions. This is easy to do and can create all types of disconnects, communication breakdowns and on many occasions conflict. One area where I saw this happen frequently in the workplace is with training new employees. The assumption would be made that because trainees were given new information in new hire training, that they would always remember it going forward. In other cases, such as in the scenario above, no training was given, because the assumption was made that they knew what to do. This can also be an assumption based on previous job/school experience of an employee.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure that our people have understanding, proper tools and resources they need to do their jobs well. We cannot always assume that this is the case. We need to objectively and proactively ask our employees if they have all of the tools that they need. It is also important that employees thoroughly understand what is expected of them, and feel safe enough to ask questions.
One of my favorite lines that I used when leading teams was “We do a horrible job at hiring mind readers! You know why? Because they don’t exist.” This is the very reason that I believe it is important to be clear about expectations and not assume that employees automatically know what is expected. Regular feedback is also an important part of the process, never assume that an employee knows how they are performing.
Needless to say, there are so many ways that we can make assumptions in the workplace. The key is to examine our own thoughts to see where we might be making assumptions, and ask for clarity from the other party, especially when we find ourselves thinking, “they should have known…”.
Next week we will explore the fourth agreement, “Always Do Your Best”. It will become apparent how all of the agreements come together and overlap.