Getting the marching orders you need to succeed

© Jennifer Pitiquen |

© Jennifer Pitiquen |

There are a few recurring nightmares that just about everyone has at some point.  You’re trying to run from a monster and you’re stuck in slow-mo.  You’re walking down the hallway of your school in your underwear.  The classics.

Then there’s the one where you have to do SOMETHING but you don’t know what to do or how.  Maybe there’s an odd-shaped racket in your hand and thousands of people in the stands shouting angrily as ten balls of different colors come flying at you.  You’re expected to perform, and you want to do well, but you don’t know the rules of the game, so you have no idea what “doing well” means.

Fortunately we wake up from our nightmares.  But some people live the “no information” nightmare over and over again while the sun is up.  They want nothing more than to do what is expected of them and to do it well, but they are repeatedly handed projects with unclear parameters, fuzzy deadlines, and unstated assumptions.

Worst of all is finding out that, just like in the nightmare, the expectations DID exist, and time after time the employee is lambasted for not meeting them.

This is not okay.  As an employee, you have the right to know what is expected of you.  Holding you to unstated standards and expectations is every bit as crazy as handing someone a bat and putting him at home plate without explaining the rules of baseball—then booing angrily when he strikes out, as he inevitably will.

The good news is that the boss who gives vague instructions is almost always doing it unintentionally.  In most cases she really wants to see the project done right and simply does not realize that she hasn’t given you the information you need to make it happen.  Your job is to help the boss help herself by giving you what you need to do well.  It’s a win-win.

Next time your boss says, “Hey, I need this done,” don’t just dive in.  Take five minutes to see if you have the information you need. What are the exact tasks that need doing?  What are the specifications? When are the deadlines, both soft and hard?

Ask the boss for a five-minute meeting.  Start by saying, “I want to knock this project out of the park, and to do that I want to be sure I understand what’s needed.”  State in your own words what you understand the parameters of the project to be.  Ask if you’ve missed anything.  Ask when the hard deadline is, and whether an earlier deadline would be ideal.  Thank the boss for the clear guidelines and promise to be in touch with any needed clarifications.

Then knock the cover off the ball.  When complete, make sure to go back to the boss and get sign off by asking, “Does this meet your expectations?” If that step is missed, you’re not complete.

If you get praise for a job well done, reply by saying how helpful the clear guidelines and deadlines were. The odds are good that your next assignment will come complete with the details you need.  If not, ask again, reminding the boss how well the previous project went with such clear guidelines.

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