The word should is one of the most common ones that comes up when someone is complaining. Employees should know what to do. Customers should understand how the business works. Family members should help each other.
The problem is that shoulding isn’t a productive use of time or energy. The should zone is outside of either control or influence. Should is often based on an assumption– and you know what they say about assuming!!
When someone around you isn’t behaving in a way you prefer, you have choices. You can work to understand why you aren’t lined up and then look for ways to create alignment. You can decide the issue isn’t that important after all and choose to accept it. Or, you can decide to eliminate the person and their troublesome behavior from your life. In each of these choices, you have either control or influence. What you can’t do is fuss enough to get the other person to change their behavior to please you.
Let’s apply this specifically to employees. When you hire someone, you assume that they have certain skills. You probably asked questions during the interview to determine what they already knew how to do. No matter how skilled they are at the things they’ve done before, it is likely you’ll want some things done differently and that some aspects of working for you will not be the same as what they’ve done before. When there is a gap between what you want and expect and what you are getting, you need to step out of the should zone and get curious about what is really going on.
The first question to ask yourself is: Have you been so clear about your expectations that there is zero possibility the employee doesn’t comprehend what is being asked of them. I find that 99% of the time when I sit down with an employee, I discover that they aren’t completely clear about their employer’s expectations. This gap between employer and employee often has to do with personality and learning styles. It isn’t anyone’s fault – it is a skill deficit on both sides.
The next thing to ask yourself is – is it a skill or will issue? A will issue is someone who deliberately refuses to do what is asked of them. The most common example is the employee who is chronically late to work. Assuming the employee understands that being late is unacceptable (and most do), when they don’t make timeliness a priority, it isn’t that they lack the skill to be on time, it is that they have decided it isn’t important. When the issue is a will issue, you can assign consequences for the behavior but unless the person chooses to change course, you either must decide to accept that they will consistently be late or let them go. This is a great example of when it may be better to find a different employee.
Most things are skill issues. Employers tend to recognize skills like packing a box, organizing inventory, or entering accounting items correctly as skills. However, organizing tasks and breaking larger goals down into daily to-dos are also skills. When we assume that our employees have these less tangible skills, we are setting the scene for miscommunication, stress, and failure.
For example, imagine that you gave your new employee amazingly detailed monthly goals that you expect them to achieve. You say to your coach, “I’ve been extremely clear about what I expect” – and that is true. The next question is: Does your employee know what to do each day to be on target for the goal? I am not suggesting you need to give every employee a detailed to-do list on a daily basis. Instead, it is time to teach your employee how to break down their goals into what they should focus on today. Too often employees are working hard but their focus is not on the tasks that are critical to achieving their goals. Only through careful mentoring can you help them learn how to structure their daily activity to ensure they meet their goals.
When you sit in your office fuming about your employee who should know what to do and should be hitting their goals, all of your focus is on an area you cannot control or influence. When you move out of the should zone and take action to bridge the gap between what is happening and what you would prefer, you move into areas where you have control and influence.
So, the next time you find yourself in the should zone, take a moment to determine how you can make a better choice so you are investing your energy where it will do the most good.
Charlise Latour a business coach and owner of Accelerate Your Success. She works with each client to determine what their goals are and create a plan so they can achieve them. She is actively involved in Dancing & Singing With The King which raises money to promote dance education including working with local schools to offer dance classes during the school day. This is a natural fit as she is an avid ballroom dancer.