We were about to meet with a very difficult client, someone who had a reputation for being nasty, abusive, demanding, and frequently “screwed” his suppliers. This was going to be a coaching sales call. I was there to audit my best sales executive’s handling of the selling process.

A few yards from the entrance he turned to me and abruptly suggested, “Why don’t you handle this call? You can probably teach me a thing or two. You can use this as my coaching session to demonstrate your way to close this sale.”

Without hesitation I replied, “Certainly. But only if you agree that when I close the sale, you will immediately resign. Agreed?” He did a wonderful job on that sales call. And, yes, we got the sale.

Too often managers leave openings in their communications or behavior of which direct reports will tend to take  advantage to justify poor performance. Close down the loopholes in your communications. Before you speak, write or act, take a second to think about what you are going to say and how you will say it. Even your body language is important. But let’s make an example of writing a memo or email to a direct report as you assign a task or project.

Often a managerial request will state assumptions, background, context, conditions, etc. to help explain why a request is being made of an employee. Don’t. Don’t provide that kind of context. The environment and business conditions are changing constantly. Don’t make it easier for a direct report to point to something that changed to justify poor performance. It’s the direct reports duty to aim at, and hit,  moving targets during assignments. Not yours.

Keep requests simple. Use the fewest words possible but enough words to ensure alignment, focus, and absolute clarity about what is to be accomplished. Avoid creating loopholes. Never telegraph that a good excuse is as valuable as a good result.