Lately, I have run into several situations when performance that deviated from the expected was explained away as “I didn’t know.” “I didn’t know” shouldn’t cut it. That goes for employees, class room students, and even family members. Communication is a two way street.
If you don’t know, if you aren’t sure, it is your responsibility to ask. While leaders, including teachers and parents, have an obligation to communicate expectations, individuals have an equal obligation to absorb what is communicated and to ask when they don’t understand or when they need new information or guidance in handling a situation. If the answer is “I didn’t know,” then either the leader is failing in his or her responsibility or the individual who “didn’t know” failed in his/her responsibility. Sometimes, it is both.
Leaders must clearly communicate what is expected -- goals, objectives, ethics, and core beliefs. There are circumstances when detail instructions or policies and procedures are required. But you can’t create rules for handling every situation and the conditions surrounding it. Even if you could spell out detail instructions for everything, humans are not capable of real time recall of every rule while on the front line. That is when an organization’s core beliefs or a family’s value system must fill in the blanks.
When we talk about individual responsibility, we are confirming the individual’s obligation to learn and understand what is expected. Rather than “I didn’t know,” it is his or her job to say, “I need to know from you.”