Back in the 1980s, when I was a very young manager of a new Center in Kansas, the Rehabilitation Services Administration’s regional office brought in a speaker named John Conway to talk to centers and other RSA funded entities about how to evaluate staff. Conway was a fan the phrase, “Clarify and agree!”  In respect to employment evaluations, this meant breaking the job down in outline form — sometimes a very extensive outline — and going through with the employee to clarify several things.

First, we clarified what all the job tasks were — that was the outline. These were called Functions (for the Roman numerals out of the job description) and Responsibilities (for all the detail added into the outline.)

Then the genius of his system — we clarified the amount of Authority the staff person had to accomplish those items. If it was a routine task that they did without permission, that was a A item for Act without checking. If it was a task that the person did without permission, but needed to report on, that was a B item for Both Act and Check. If it was an item that needed prior approval it was a C item — Check First.

The conversation that took place made an excellent employee evaluation — one that usually took a couple of hitches to complete because it was an extensive conversation about the job. Let me give you an example of my first evaluation with the board. One of the responsibilities was to give news releases to the local papers in the many counties where our center was located. I marked that an A — Act without checking. The board marked it a C – Check first. One member explained that she got the morning paper, but sometimes before she could open it she got a phone call asking about an article we’d placed there. She did not like to be surprised. We ended up agreeing that I would let the board members know in advance when an article was going to be in the paper, and if desired, would give them a copy of the news release at the same time as it was given to the paper.

“Clarify and agree” became  an important management concept for me. Do you see what I mean? There I was doing something that irritated my board vice president (soon to be president) just when I most needed to cultivate a positive working relationship. By clarifying and agreeing together we resolved a potential conflict before it blew up in my face.

I think this same approach is important as a planning tool. Your mission only guides you forward if it is absolutely clear. Those grandiose goals are only meaningful if you break them down into small enough pieces to clarify exactly who is going to do what. And in planning especially, but in all these conversations, the deadline for getting it done.

This also works as a partnership tool. As you work with other entities in the community, it is good to take time to be clear on who is doing what. Get specific. Walk through a task in your mind and jot down enough detail to have the conversation. Here is an excellent article about clarifying before you commit. As author Randy Taussig states, “As a leader of your business, you’re responsible for developing and articulating a vision that everyone understands and can follow. The key is to gain clarity first, commitment second. This will foster the alignment and enthusiasm that will get you there faster!

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Clarify and agree — in writing!

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