Unclear Expectations and Aimless Process

My son works at McDonald’s, and I remember his first week of work. He told me how confusing all the jobs were and how he would do them differently. He didn’t know at the time but knows now that the system works. When McDonald’s standardized the delivery of hamburgers, it revolutionized the industry. Burger King, Taco Bell, and almost every fast-food chain that followed mimicked the system that the McDonald’s brothers designed, and Ray Kroc exploited. The system created consistently tasting food that is simple enough for teenagers to make. The magic of this system is the expectations are clear, and the recipes are in picture form.

Now McDonald’s does not compare the 9 to 5 of a knowledge worker, but knowledge work can look like the restaurant industry before McDonald’s ‘Speedee Service System.’ Unclear expectations fill Knowledge Work with silos and process debt. It can feel disjointed and cluttered. It makes me wonder much time is lost because people don’t know what to expect?

When there is a lack of consistency and process, people fill in the gaps with their processes. Sometimes this works well, but other times these processes don’t align with the rest of the business. Then the disjointed processes lead to decreased understanding and more confusion.

Expectations and accountability often come as a pair. Often, we hold people accountable for unclear expectations, which leads to work-related stress and management frustration. The expectation/accountability miss can lead to a downward spiral. People work harder to meet the perceived expectation while being held accountable for something completely different.

If people don’t know what to expect, process entropy happens, and new unaligned processes appear. A sprawl of new processes is born as people try to meet unclear expectations. These siloed processes fracture the alignment and waste time. Meanwhile, managers are wondering why people are doing what they expect.

Clarifying expectations takes humility and acceptance that your assumptions might be wrong to fix this confusion. But, whether you are the doer or the manager, asking the other person to clarify the expectations can make all the difference. It can also reduce stress.

We all want autonomy, but this autonomy has to align with the corporate good. For example, we wouldn’t want autonomous vehicles to drive haphazardly because humans could avoid them. Yet Knowledge work can follow an aimless pattern where everyone is driving all over the place, but no one knows where they are going. As a result, we get lost in creating and don’t stop the car and ask where we were going in the first place.

In the end, people’s behaviors and technology drive our work, and if you want to perfect the process, you have to find out why the people are technology are acting the way they are.



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