Signaling

In about a year, my oldest daughter will begin to learn how to drive.

As part of her learning process, I’ve been teaching her the various driver controls in the car, the rules of the road, and driving decision-making principles.

One conversation, in particular, stood out in my mind.

It was a conversation where I explained how the yellow turn signals on the rear of a car work.

My daughter wanted to know:

1) How do you actually turn on the lights?
2) When do you turn on the lights?
3) What should the driver do when she sees the driver in front of her turn on their yellow signal lights?

If someone has never driven before and never really paid attention to something other than the music selection available in the car, she wouldn’t actually know any of this.

So I explained that when the driver ahead of you wants to change lanes to the left, she will turn on her left turn signal.

The yellow flashing light on the rear of her vehicle signals her INTENT to switch into the lane to her left.

When she wants to make a right turn, she will turn on her right turn signal to signal her INTENT to make a right-hand turn.

I explained that these SIGNAL lights are a form of communication.

They make another driver’s action predictable.

If such lights did not exist, two cars might try to merge into the same lane at the same time and crash.

It would be chaos.

However, when every driver uses their signals properly, the road is much more predictable, safer, and less stressful for everyone on the road.

As I was explaining this, it occurred to me that the exact same thing is true when it comes to managing people, a team, or an organization.

If you have a boss that gets really upset abruptly for no apparent reason, it’s confusing, chaotic, and anxiety producing.

On any given day, you have no idea how your boss will behave.

If you work with a colleague who says they will take X action on your behalf, but then only actually follows through half the time, it’s confusing, chaotic, and anxiety producing.

When this happens, you can’t rely on your colleague to get X action done. It makes it difficult to work together as a team and to make any reliable plans that depend on X getting done.

Highways, organizations, and your teams run most effectively when the signals you send ACCURATELY reflect your intentions.

This involves three steps.

1) Deciding what you intend to do

2) Signaling your intentions

3) Doing what you intended

It is very simple conceptually, but not always easy to execute.

Here’s why.

Sometimes you don’t know what you intend to do.

When you haven’t decided, you obviously can’t signal that you will or will not do something.

In these cases, it is helpful to others to say that you intend to decide by XYZ date.

"I’m not sure if I want to approve this project. I will let you know next Friday."

This means between now and next Friday, there is no need to ask me about it or speculate.

All questions will be answered... yes, you got it, next Friday.

Once you’ve decided what you intend to do, you need to actually SIGNAL it.

Many managers (and I am guilty of this from time to time) arrive at a decision in their head and tend to think we're done. The decision has been made.

In these cases, the manager forgets that other people are impacted by the decision.

The sooner you signal your intention, decision, or action, the more time they have to react, respond, or assist.

After you signal your intent, follow through.

When you follow through on 90%+ of your signals, you develop a reputation as someone who is predictable, reliable, and consistent.

More people want to work for you or with you.

You say what you’re going to do.

You do what you say.

Very simple.

Easy.

No drama. No chaos. No speculation.

Here are my questions of the day:

In your work with others...

1) How often do you signal your intentions to others?

2) How often do you follow through on what you signaled?

It’s a question worth thinking about.

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