Jennifer Wilson
Five simple steps to ensure expectations are met

Tired of being disappointed when delegating work? Try a new approach.

November 18, 2013
by Jennifer Wilson

Clients who don’t deliver their documents on time.

Staff who produce a deliverable that isn’t as complete as you’d expected.

Partners who don’t complete their deliverable review when you need it.

Peers who don’t follow up on commitments from recent meetings.

We can all fully relate to these setbacks. And they’re just the short list of disappointments that we hear from CPAs when we explore ways to improve firm and individual performance. People spend a lot of time rehashing recent disappointments and, when we do, we usually make the other party wrong for not delivering what was expected.

But so often, the truth is that, as in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” As leaders and delegators, we spend more time complaining about performance than we do ensuring it. I find that most leaders, no matter how experienced, do a poor job of establishing clear, indisputable expectations of others. And then, because of the lack of clarity, people do their best, but their best isn’t exactly what we’d “hoped” for and disappointment sets in.

Great delegation takes more time that you are probably spending now when making assignments, but the investment upfront is well worth the improved performance you’ll experience. When you delegate or assign an expectation, be sure to follow these five steps:

  1. Define the deliverable by answering these questions for your assignee:
    • What do you need produced (deliverable or result)?
    • What form should this deliverable/result take (electronic or printed, produced in what application, written in what voice, sent to whom, measured how, etc.)?
    • How complete does the deliverable need to be? Is this an initial draft? Do you need this 100% complete and ready to be published? Or is it somewhere in between?
    • Who will be involved in the review process?
  2. Establish a clear timeline and due date. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is always the most resisted element of delegation. When I ask people why they don’t assign due dates, they say they don’t want to be overly demanding or perceived as micromanaging. When I ask those taking delegation why they don’t offer a “by-when I’ll deliver” date, they often say that they like the looseness of not having a due date—it allows them to deliver whenever they want, and not fail. But that’s not true! In the absence of a due date, both parties make up their own, and if you’re the assignee, the delegator’s due date is almost always sooner than your own. Due dates have a month, day, and year. They are not “ASAP,” “this week,” “when you can get to it,” or any other squishy timeframe. Establishing clear due dates allows you to properly manage expectations and avoid time-based disappointment.
  3. Identify any resources or collaborators. Identify what internal and/or external resources the individual will need to be successful in producing the expected deliverable or result on time.
  4. Establish a return and reporting mechanism and timing. When we delegate an assignment or a goal to someone, it is very important that we agree on the method by which he or she will communicate status and completion. The more concern you have about the assignment, the more important it is to establish a clear reporting process along the way. With longer assignment timelines, it is critical to have milestone check-in points where the assignee checks in with the delegator to provide status reports and reset any expectations needed. The return and reporting mechanism may be a status report in email, a short meeting, a formal reporting meeting or you can agree that the “no news is good news” method will work for you. Then, honor the agreed-upon reporting process and respect your people by not checking in between reporting periods unless something about the assignment has changed.
  5. Document your understanding. Write an email recap of your plan. Better yet, have your assignee write the email. The email will be a simple outline memorializing the agreements in the first four steps of delegation and is intended to clear up any miscommunications that might exist as a result of incomplete listening to the verbal assignment discussion. This written step may seem like overkill, but it removes any “I don’t remember that” or “I didn’t agree to that” that might arise, providing a much higher likelihood of expected performance.

Following these five steps of delegation will provide your people the support they need to deliver as expected and experience success. And you can follow this same framework when accepting delegation and when managing assignments with clients, too. When you do so, you’ll minimize the potential of disappointing others and maximize your potential for meeting or exceeding expectations.

As motivational author and speaker Jim Rohn said, “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” Build the discipline in your organization to think through your assignments and spend the time necessary establishing clear expectations. You’ll be astounded by the improved performance and amazed by all the time you save no longer complaining about disappointments.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.