That’s not what I wanted


How often have you completed a request only to find out that your work wasn’t met with a warm reception?  That’s great, but it’s not quite what I was looking for…  Alternatively, you may have just suffered a Hit and Run incident.  This is what I mean when you’ve been given to a request to fulfill and had no opportunity to respond and now you are left wondering what is it I need to do, let alone how am I going to get it done.

I find the above are just two examples of the many breakdowns that occur from one of the most common and potentially simple conversations we have each day, the request.  What can possibly go wrong?  Lots of things.

Rather dive deeper in the depths of breakdowns, I am going to shift our focus to how we can avoid these.  Fortunately, a lot of work has been done on how to make effective requests and I describe the following as the non-discretionary components of any request:

  • What is the request?
  • Who is going to perform it?
  • Who is the customer who will declare satisfaction or dissatisfaction upon completion?
  • What is the criteria the customer will use to judge their satisfaction?
  • When will it be completed?
  • Why is it important?

I describe these elements as non-discretionary because if any are missing, you are inviting a breakdown, which I define as an outcome which is different than the one desired.

A question I hear a lot is do you REALLY have to have these elements with every promise?  It feels odd asking my spouse to get me something from the store and having to describe the criteria on which I will declare satisfaction.  My wife would think I was nuts, although she is used to me now.  The reality is we get to know some people so well or the requests are so trivial, we can create a clear agreement by only stating what we are requesting.  The real test is whether you are having breakdowns or not.

In the work environment, the request I observe being made are not trivial and they are not obvious.  They deserve the rigor above unless you want to suffer the frustration, cost, and lost trust of a breakdown.