Assigning tasks effectively

"Giving someone a task? These four straightforward steps are critical to success."

The background and context to a task will give it more meaning for people. Why is this job important now? What is the rationale behind it? Are there particular stakeholders for whom this is especially important?

It may help to be explicit about how much this means to the team, and spell out the impact that success will have ( and, perhaps, the consequences of failure). Painting the bigger picture in this way will make the tasks more meaningful and bring out the best in people.

1: Make your expectations clear

Spell out precisely what you expect and a date for its achievement. Express your confidence in the person’s ability to achieve the task even if it is stretching for them. That is why you are entrusting them with it.

Describe what a good result will look like, and any particular expectations you have of particular individuals. Who is responsible for what, to whom, by when? Who will be expected to work alongside whom, and how do their responsibilities inter-lock?

If there is potential for confusion in decision-making responsibilities, be explicit about who has responsibilities for what decisions.

2: Explain how results will be reviewed

You will probably have a timetable in mind for a regular review of progress so that you can keep abreast of progress – without micro-managing. Who will be involved in that review, and what will you expect to see on the review dates?

The person you are assigning the task to will also want feedback at this review. Giving regular, knowledgeable and accurate feedback is an essential part of the motivation and high performance cycle. Our giving constructive feedback page has all the tips you need to do this well.

3: Outline the resources and support available

Finally, outline the resources that the team or individual will have access to, to help them do the job. Will they have extra staff, finance, materials, hardware, software, access to information and so on?

Let the person know who they can go to with questions or problems, and what level of support they can expect. Make sure you inform the people who you have said will provide support.

and for all steps... Listen

Steps 1 to 3 have been described in a very one-directional, top-down, way. But even if you are “assigning” a task to someone (rather than having an early discussion with someone about whether they should do it), the most important part of the discussion will be listening carefully to how the person reacts, answering questions, responding to suggestions and concerns and so on. The active listening page will help you get this right.

The conclusion of this dialogue should be that you forge a well understood agreement with the other person about what is being expected from them. That clarity of expectation is the first step to successful achievement.