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Hold People Accountable Through Explicit Communication

communication Jun 15, 2020

On the 4th of July, not too long ago, my daughter and I ventured outside to watch the fireworks at a friends barbeque. We both hate loud noises (sparklers are more my speed), but did not want to miss the “people watching” opportunity. 

We sat in the back of my truck as this mix of adults and teens lit bottle rockets in the middle of the street. The adults modeled and taught the teens how to properly light the fuse at the bottom of the rocket and get out of the way. 

The crowd started to grow as a pick-up basketball game was started by the adults. Leaving the fireworks to a couple of teens. 

I happened to notice one teenager was attempting to light a Roman Candle. A Roman Candle, if you do not know, is a rocket that you hold in your hand as it shoots fireballs into the air. 

This teen, who learned how to light the bottle rocket safely from the bottom, was not aware that a Roman Candle lights at the top. But he had the rocket upside down. His face was less than 12 inches from the barrel of the rocket. 

According to some research, If the explosion of the candle hits the neck, the impact can cause a neck fracture or even blow off part of one's face, and the high heat can cause 3rd to 4th degree burns.

I did not know his name and yelled, “HEY YOU!!! IT’S UPSIDE DOWN!!! THE CANDLE!!! HEY YOU!!!” 

His Mom saw him and yelled, “Drop it!!! Drop it!!!”

And so he did. 

The candle rolled away and people started screaming and fireballs were flying at foot level!

The power behind the blasts flipped the candle over. Now directly facing at me and my daughter. 

As a rocket shot I moved to my right, skipping over the flame, ending up behind a parked car. A second fireball shot, again I jumped, staying behind the car. 

That was the last one. As I looked up I noticed my daughter, alone, in a fetal position in shock. I went over to check on her and she gave me a disappointed look I will never forget and said, “I am going inside”. 

I have never felt like less of a man.

The health of a relationship, team, organization is the function of the average lag time between identifying and discussing problems. 

A 2018 study by Vital Smarts identified the average cost of a three day lag time between identification of a problem and discussion of a problem is $3,000. For a five day lag time, wastes about $25,000!

As school leaders we face Roman Candle fire balls every single day. 

  • Teacher who do not return calls to parents
  • Employees who show up late or are no show to meetings  
  • Missed deadlines on key reports
  • Teachers implementing the education plan with fidelity
  • Missing sub lesson plans 
  • Unprepared teachers
  • Students disrupting learning

For some school leaders, the list is endless.  

This gap in communication typically starts with the expectation. 

Just like the young teen. He was taught and communicated on how to light the bottle rocket. But he only observed the Roman Candle. There was no, explicit communication of the expectations around the Roman Candle. 

Therein lies the gap between expectation and communication. The gap occurs at the beginning, at the expectation. 

Any expectation not communicated, is merely a thought. 

And without clearly communicated expectations (your vision), combined with an agreed upon commitment, there is vague, if any, accountability towards the desired results. 

For example. If you had a vision for students walking in the hallway, transitioning from classroom to classroom. 

The communicated vision with expectations might be:

During student transitions, all students will line up at the door with no talking. The teacher will stand in the hallway and monitor the students as they walk to their next class. The receiving teacher will be outside at the door to finalize the “custody to custody” transition and to greet students as they arrive. If the teacher is not there, the students are not to be left alone by the teacher. If the teacher is there and ready to receive, provide a hand signal or verbal cue that you have the incoming class. Greet each student as they enter and direct them to begin their "Do Now" assignment on the board. 

As a school leader, it is your job to paint the vision, explicitly communicate the expectations, gain full commitment from your teachers and inspect what you expect daily.  

If you happen to find an unintended class, or a class who is not transitioning based on your expectations, then and only then do you have the ability to have that accountability conversation. 

That sounds like this.

Restate the expectations: Mr. Miller, we agreed to ensure all students would transition in the hallway, without talking, and would be monitored by an adult at all times. 

Identify the gap (state was what observed): However, when I was walking in the hallway I noticed your class was walking without supervision, talking and disrupting learning in the other classes?

Seek to understand (ask a question): Help me understand what I saw? How come you were not there with them?

Be sure to listen to their answer to identify the specific gap. 

Opportunity to Improve: Provide them the information they need to improve their actions. 

Restate the expectations: Communicate the explicit expectations one more time. 

Follow up and praise: Be sure to inspect what you expect over the next couple of days and praise the teacher for improving. Remember, praise the behavior you desire to see, you will get more of it. 

This formula works in any situation, with any member of your staff or team. It works if you work it! Just give it a try. 

Are you interested in improving your communication? I encourage you to download our most popular communication lessons. Click here It has been proven that communication is the number one skill necessary for promotion!

Oh, and be sure to light the correct end of a Roman Candle.

Here is a link if you are not sure how!  Click to watch

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