Get specific when you delegate

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 9th April 2018

Just the other day my partner delegated something to me, but unfortunately did not get the result she wanted. She showed me a bottle of laundry conditioner – Fluffy to be exact – and asked me to buy some when shopping for dinner. I made a note of this on my phone, so I didn’t forget, and off I went to work.

Later that day, I purchased the bottle of Fluffy as requested. Such a well organised partner, I thought to myself. When I got home, it turned out that I got the wrong one. I got the right brand, but I bought the large bottle that won’t fit in the laundry cupboard, not the small one that she had shown me. Not the end of the world, but I thought this was a great lesson in delegation.

If you want a specific result, be specific when you delegate!

Her assumption was that by showing me the bottle, I would buy that exact bottle. But without a qualifying statement about being sure to buy the small one, my assumption was that she wanted that brand, but had no strong opinion about size or any other measurement. Nobody was really in the wrong here, we were just both busy and trying to get this done in the cracks. And this is when mistakes happen, and work is wasted or needs to be redone.

In the workplace, I reckon that this sort of miscommunication happens a lot. We delegate work to others and assume that their thinking is the same as ours. But when we work in complex teams, with a diverse range of personalities and skillsets, our thinking is often very different. We need to be careful not to make assumptions, and to take the time to think through what we specifically want before we delegate.

Of course, if you do not need a very specific result, and are happy to leave it up to your team member to make decisions about the detail, then delegate the general outcome you want. But if you want a specific outcome, to a specific level of quality, then delegate specifically. This may take more time, but in the long run time is saved for both of you.

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