Does this sound familiar? You’ve delegated work and thought that you and your staff person were on the same page about what to do, but when the work comes back to you, it’s markedly different from what you thought you both agreed on. Or, you’re frustrated because your team didn’t prioritize the items you cared about most, or spent way too much time on something that you don’t think has much value.
All too often, when managers are frustrated over what feels like a baffling lack of alignment, it’s because they assumed that their staff understood what they wanted – but didn’t actually make it clear or check to confirm that understanding. In other words, they counted on the employee to read their mind.
It’s easy to fall into doing this. It’s especially easy when you’ve worked with people for a while and assume that you speak the same shorthand; it can be natural to assume that you’re on the same page and you don’t need to spell everything out. But assuming that you don’t in fact employ a team of mind readers, it’s always better to take the time to get aligned. To do that, follow these six steps when you’re delegating work:
1. Cover the big picture: what outcome you need and why. This is the step that answers the question, “What will success look like -- really?” Often managers define this in a way that doesn't really cover what they have in their heads. For example, they’ll say something like, “I need you to help with logistics for the training session,” when what they really mean is, “You’re in charge of making sure the logistics for the training session go smoothly.” The employee hears that they’ll need to field specific tasks that the manager assigns, while the manager ends up frustrated that the employee didn’t take more ownership and proactively anticipate additional ways to achieve that broader goal. So be sure that you’re really thinking through what you’ll consider a successful outcome, and convey that.
2. Cover the smaller picture: the details you’ll care about. Try to extract and articulate everything that’s in your head about how you’d like the project to go. An easy way to get at this is to run through how things might go wrong, and then address those right up-front. For example, you might include things like:
3. Share samples, if possible. This won’t work with every type of assignment, but in many cases it can be helpful to show samples of what you’re looking for – whether it’s examples of websites with the look and feel you want your new site to have or a memo laid out in similar format and structure to what your staff person should write.
4. Don’t forget to talk prioritization. Make sure the employee knows where the project should fall relative to her other priorities and how quickly you expect it to be completed or to see a substantial piece of it.
5. Ask the employee to repeat back to you their understanding of these details. The best way to be sure your employee understands the project the way you do is to simply ask. For example, you could say, “To make sure we’re on the same page, can you tell me what you’re taking away from this?” If the work is more complicated, you might ask the person to send you a quick email summarizing their takeaways. This can feel awkward the first time you do it, so you can say something like, “I know I’m not always as clear as I think I am, so would you capture what we’ve agreed to here and email it back to me, so I can make sure there’s nothing lost in translation?” Almost always when you do this, you’ll find one or two details where you weren’t on the same page and will have a chance to clarify.
6. Check in as the work unfolds. By continuing to engage during the course of the work, you’ll be able to get a feel for how it’s unfolding and can ensure that things are going according to plan or course-correct as needed. You don’t want to hover, but you should check in on the work during your one-on-one’s and in many cases can ask to see interim pieces of the work (such as a draft or interim data). If you do this, you’re far less likely to be surprised at the end of the project – and your staff person is far less likely to feel frustrated that they put time into something that wasn’t quite right.
How do teams at Intuit keep track of delegated work? Try our simple project tracking app, free, today.