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How to Build Your Employees’ Foresight

Foresight isn’t a mysterious gift bestowed at birth. It is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs. These habits of thought can be learned and cultivated by any intelligent, thoughtful, determined person.

Philip E. Tetlock

For many years, my Manager360 cofounder, Joel, has advocated the concept of asking employees to predict their outcomes.

The basic idea is this: If you ask an employee “Where are you at on that project?” you’re going to get a substantially different answer than if you ask “How likely are you to complete that project on time?

The first question is past-oriented. It feels like you’re checking up on the employee. It also leaves out key information: The employee could be 90% done with the project but have a major obstacle on the last 10% that you don’t know about.

I agree with Joel that the second question—”How likely are you to complete that project on time?”—is the better one to ask. When you ask for a prediction, you tap into the proactive, future-oriented part of the employee’s mind and get them to forecast for you. It’s a subtle but important shift.

Accurate forecasting is a highly underrated skill in employees. When you spend time developing your team’s predictive powers, you open the door to truly predictable results. It doesn’t mean the results will always be good, but you, the manager, will know about them ahead of time and have a chance to intervene and/or shift the plan based on new assumptions.

Because we find the predictive aspect of goal updates so important, we’ve made it a central function of our new Microsoft Teams app. (Want to try it? Sign up or get a demo here.) Every week, the app prompts employees to predict the outcome of each goal they set for the quarter:

—If it’s very likely to be achieved on time, it gets a smiley face.

—Fairly likely? It gets a neutral face.

—And those goals that have fallen into the “unlikely” category get a frowning face—prompting manager and employee to have a talk about the underlying issues and what, if anything, needs to be done.

So, in your 1-on-1s this week, don’t ask for status updates on the employee’s goals. Instead, ask them to commit to each one’s likelihood of completion. You may be surprised at the rich, useful information this practice unlocks.

Picture of Alicia Thrasher

Alicia Thrasher

Alicia is cofounder and CEO of Manager360. Previously, she brought her leadership, vision, and strategic oversight to many executive positions, including leading programs for eBay/PayPal, Google, and Anheuser-Busch. She is the coauthor, with Joel Trammell, of The Manager's Playbook: Make Exceptional People Management Your Competitive Advantage.

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