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7 deadly sins in making requests of others

Following on from Managing by Exception.  When writing on this, I discovered the 7 deadly sins, which might ring true for you, as it did for me.

Just as it is near impossible to get authentic feedback, when it comes to goal setting by our boss, a lot of attempts can fall flat.

Exactly like asking a group of teenagers to do something specific unsupervised.  Communication has to be clear and compelling. There seems to be a teenage filter where only a small part of what we say may land well.

So, with thanks to Robert H. Schaffer, these were:

Too many goals.

Which can feel like a grab bag of stuff that should be shared/improved, rather than lumped on a person. I have seen up to 30 loaded on a person, in addition to their job description, which was hard to get inspired about and smelt like they had been set up to fail.  By assigning an overabundance of objectives you allow subordinates to pick and choose the goals that they either want to do or find easiest to do — but not necessarily the ones that are most important. Ashkenas

No plan requested.

Sometimes there is a lack of commitment when goals are being set, failing to discuss approach and timing. This can make it vague and seem unimportant. Allowing deflection to preparations, studies, and research: You allow people to spend time planning instead of committing to a real goal. Ashkenas:

Failing to push for significant improvement

For fear that people are already overwhelmed – Potentially spending more time negotiating the goal downward than in figuring out how to achieve it – like setting sales budgets, sometimes called sandbagging.  Backing away from tough expectations: You spend more time negotiating the goal downward than in figuring out how to achieve it.  Ashkenas

No single person responsible

Too many cooks? Through assigning specific responsibility, we can avoid blamestorming, passing the buck, or ignorance. Having a goal owner, ensures that they have responsibility. Increases their ownership of the goal and outcome.  Not establishing consequences: You don’t really differentiate between those who successfully achieve goals and those who do not Ashkenas

Signalling an unspoken “if you possibly can”

At the end of a statement of expectation, the expression and tone can give it away, making it seem like an afterthought. As though it is optional and not of importance. Trailing off, as though lacking confidence.  Engaging in charades: You and your people know from the beginning that the goal is just an exercise to convey the appearance of progress, but there’s no hope of achieving it.  Ashkenas

Accepting reverse assignments

(“Sure, boss, I can get it done if you will see to it that…”) I get the logic of this, however better off establishing a WIP file for regular disciplined review and prioritising. Thus, there doesn’t have to be trade-offs, as the person responsible achieves mastery over time, coaching and mentoring as to how to do things efficiently.  Accepting seesaw trades: When your people take on one goal, they are relieved of another one. Ashkenas

Goals set that are not definable or measurable.

Stating goals in ways that help the recipient by be definable or measurable, something that they can clearly and easily explain to others.  Otherwise, if it is too hard, the request may be not taken seriously or misunderstood.  Setting vague or distant goals: The time frame is not explicitly defined or set too far into the future, so no one takes it seriously. Ashkenas

Some may seek to use SMART Goals to help:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

Another article that may be worth having a look at also, is Being Responsible for the Understanding of Others.

Suffice to say that there is a lot of pre-work and collaboration to tackle the 7 deadly sins of making requests of others, I always try to do so politely and confidently.

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