Tell them what NOT to do

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 13th September 2022

On the weekend I did one of my favourite things – built Ikea furniture. No really, I love it. It is like Lego for me, a creative exercise with step-by-step instructions. As usual, I got myself into a bit of trouble. About halfway into building a set of shelves, I ran into a dead end. The part I needed to put on next would not fit. I went back to the instructions, retraced my steps, and low and behold, I had not followed the instructions carefully enough.

A few steps before, the instructions clearly showed how to put on one of the shelving brackets, and it clearly showed what NOT to do. Do not put on the bracket with the holes on the top. Make sure the holes line up on the bottom. This was my problem. Further down the track I could not fit the shelf because the holes were in the wrong position. I had to take it all apart again and redo the build the right way this time.

Even though I messed up, I believe that Ikea instructions are really good at helping the builder to avoid mistakes like this. They clearly show you what to do, and what NOT to do. The problem was, in my enthusiasm, and maybe arrogant self-confidence, I did not read the instructions fully.

When we delegate in the workplace, it’s also a good idea to tell people what to do, and what NOT to do. Ikea know the common mistakes people make when building their products that just lead to frustration and rework, so they communicate them upfront. With your experience. you may also know the common mistakes the people you delegate to could make. It is worth taking the time to delegate properly and thinking through what it is you want them to deliver. Include with this any relevant insights into the traps they should try to avoid when doing the work. Of course, be sure you take their experience into account, as you don’t want to teach your team how to suck eggs.

A lot of time and energy is wasted on rework and on fixing mistakes, often because work was not delegated properly in the first place. There is an old saying – ‘If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.’ We could add to that with – ‘If it is worth delegating, it is worth delegating well.’

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