YKK Stories

2017-07-31 Issue 8 Fundamental Behavior 7 – Clarify Expectations, Then Respond Quickly.

February 19, 2019
Author: YKK
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All 25 of our Fundamental Behaviors are important, but I have to confess that I am especially fond of this one. I truly believe that if we all follow the simple guidelines it offers, our work lives (and probably our lives at home, too) would be so much more productive and free of stress.

The steps suggested with this Behavior are: 1) Avoid misunderstandings by discussing expectations up-front; 2) Ask when you’re not clear on what is expected of you; 3) End all meetings with clarity about action items and responsibilities; and 4) Then, respond quickly, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or by e-mail. Respond even if you’re still working on a solution.

It seems like such an obvious thing for everyone to do, but my guess is we’re all guilty of not practicing this behavior as often as we should. If our car is in the shop, we probably ask, “When can I pick it up?” Or we’re quick to tell our kids, “You will be home before midnight.” But how about in our jobs each day? Are we equally diligent about clarifying expectations?

Imagine the following situation: A customer calls with a question about one of our products or about a delivery date. Our employee (let’s say it’s Jane) might say, “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I will call Bill (who does know the answer) and get right back to you.” Jane’s response was very polite and nearly perfect, other than the lack of clarity about the meaning of “get right back to you.” After hanging up, Jane might add the customer’s question to a long “to do” list of other questions with every intention of getting back to the customer in a day or two or three. On the other hand, the customer might be sitting by the phone waiting for an answer. Eventually Jane calls back in three days, happy to have the answer, and finds an irate customer who is totally unhappy with the service YKK provided. No doubt a conversation about the meaning of “right back to you” will ensue between Jane and the customer, with the customer doing 99% of the talking.

What went wrong? The problem was a misunderstanding regarding when the response was expected. “Right back to you” is too vague. Let’s say Jane was confident she could call back in one hour. In that case, she could have said, “I’ll call you back in an hour.” But what if she didn’t have the answer in an hour? In that case, she should call anyway since that was the commitment and the expectation. Even if the response is to say, “Bill is not at his desk, but they expect him back within the hour so I’ll call you back within an hour, if that’s okay. Thank you for your patience.”

Similarly, we should ask questions if we’re not clear of what is expected of us. At the end of all our meetings, we should review all the action items and make sure we’re clear about who has been tasked with doing what … and by when.

We all face situations each day where we should clarify expectations initially, and then respond quickly. And we can take responsibility for clarifying everyone’s expectations no matter which end of the business transaction we’re on: We might be the buyer or the seller. Everyone will benefit if we end our meetings and our discussions by clarifying the actions items, assigning responsibilities, and clarifying all expectations from that point forward.

Let’s try it!


Alex Gregory
Chairman and CEO
YKK Corporation of America