Assigning Work Tasks

As a manager of other people, one of your most important tasks is assigning work to those that report to you.  This is the primary way for work to be accomplished.  Whether it’s a specific project that came down from your boss or general tasks that must be completed for the mission of the organization to succeed, getting your people to complete these items on time and (if applicable) on budget is your duty.

Here is a 5 step process for assigning work to direct reports:

  1. Organize Your Thoughts–Before you blast off a quick email or start barking orders, you need to take a moment to gather your thoughts so that your assignment makes sense to your direct and they have enough information to accomplish it.
  2. Explain the Task–Go into sufficient detail so your direct understands what the task is, why it is important and what the expected outcome is.
  3. Provide the Resources–Another job of the manager–allocating resources.  whatever the direct needs to perform the task is your responsibility.  If he/she needs to gather supplies or tools or other items, then that can be part of the assignment, but you need to inform them of where to get these items or to whom they need to talk or email to get the items needed.  It will not do anyone any good if you just leave them to fend for themselves.
  4. Set the Deadline–Probably the most missed item on this list, setting the deadline is also one of the most important.  Without this, how will the direct know how to prioritize all of the other tasks that they are responsible for?  You also need to have a plan for when to follow up and something to measure performance against.  Be specific.  “by Tuesday” is not specific enough.  You’ll be thinking “by Tuesday” means by the end of the workday on Monday.  They will be thinking that “by Tuesday” means before Wednesday.  This can mess up your schedule if you planned to work on that item Tuesday afternoon.  More on this in a later post.
  5. Follow Up–Last but certainly not least is to follow up with your direct.  Don’t wait until the deadline to catch them in non-performance and write them up; check in soon after they begin to double check that they understand and have the resources that they need.  Follow up again about midway through the time frame and then right before the due date.  There should be no reason for them to miss the deadline.  Obviously the complexity of the task will determine if all of these steps are necessary, but you get the idea.

If you go through these 5 steps when assigning work, you are much more likely to get what you’ve asked for on time and much less likely to have confusion and missed deadlines.  Lack of clarity causes you to take more of your valuable time redirecting and explaining things to your folks.  My high school gym teacher had a phrase that he repeated every day:

“Do it right, do it light.  Do it wrong, do it long.”

He was usually referring to my inability to properly perform a layup, but the rule applies to this scenario as well.  If you take a few moments to assign work properly, it goes smoothly and easily.  If you just throw out quick assignments without the proper guidance, you will have to continuously add more information and clearer direction to get the work accomplished.