If you’ve been a business owner for any length of time and have employees, you’ve most likely had this scenario occur: You asked someone to do something, thought you had made your instructions clear, and expected it to be done. But it wasn’t done correctly or at all. You felt frustrated, annoyed and maybe downright angry.
Few things are as frustrating as delegating a task to someone else and having them drop the ball. As the business owner, you’re busy and have the responsibility and stress of overseeing the entire company. You probably need to delegate even more things to others to free your time. However, you need to be able to trust that when you’ve turned something over to someone else, it will be done and done correctly.
Your role as company owner demands that you exhibit strong leadership and hold employees accountable for the assignments they’re given. At the same time, skilled people are hard to find and you may (and probably should) be reluctant to come down on them too hard.
So how could you make the system work better to ensure your directives and instructions are followed? We’ve found several methods that seem to work well.
First, if the assignment is important or the instructions have much detail, put it in writing. Some people are not auditory learners and have difficulty absorbing information they hear. No matter how hard you try to explain or how clear you think you’re being, they still won’t “get it.”
Judy relates to this because she’s a visual learner. When she’s trying to absorb something, she has to see it in written format. She often finds having it on paper works better than reading it on a computer screen or simply listening to the instructions.
When giving oral instructions, make sure employees understand what you’re telling them to do, even if it’s a simple assignment. If you’re in too much of a hurry when giving directions, it probably won’t work out as you intended.
This may seem obvious, but we know from experience how easily this can happen. Laddie was rushing to an appointment and got in too much of a hurry when giving our assistant instructions on an important, time-critical assignment. The end result was that Laddie had to work late into the night to complete what our assistant could have easily done if he had just slowed down and given her clear instructions.
Another good practice is to have the person repeat what they think you just told them to do. That gives you the opportunity to correct any miscommunication and solidifies the instructions in their mind. A few extra minutes up front will take far less time than fixing a botched project later.
Ask the employee if they feel they have the tools and training necessary to do the job. Assigning a task to someone who is incapable of satisfactorily completing the task or failing to supply them with needed resources is a waste of everyone’s time and your money. And it will be a source of frustration for both you and the employee. If they don’t believe they’re qualified or have the tools they need, then take whatever steps are necessary to get them what they need or assign it to someone else.
Set a completion date and, for larger projects, you may want to add dates for certain benchmarks. Ask them if they feel they have adequate time to finish the assignment. If not, ask why and how long they think it will take.
Once you’ve confirmed the person understands what’s expected, another method of establishing accountability is asking for a commitment. You can say something like, “Okay, Bob, I’m turning this project over to you. Do I have your word that you’ll take care of it?” When giving written instructions, you can also have them sign off on it to indicate they understand the task and are agreeing to take responsibility for it. A simple email response may be adequate.
Then follow up to ensure the project is on track. Follow-up can be accomplished through regular meetings, memos or email updates. Continue to reinforce the expected outcome and let the employee know what kind of reporting you expect from them to keep you in the loop. If it becomes apparent the project is heading the wrong direction, talk to the responsible person without delay and determine what’s necessary to get it back on track.
Will these measures always work? Maybe not, but they will take care of many of the issues involved in establishing and maintaining accountability. And if they’re not working on a regular basis, you might start questioning whether you have the right employees.
Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business. Judy@BusinessTruths.com.