Extra Edition / Business Management

The Importance of Giving Complete Work Assignments

January 8, 2007
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Contrary to conventional wisdom in the business community, managers’ actions are a primary reason that employees upset customers.

Employees upset customers when managers don't give employees all the information they need to perform as customers expect. In other words, customer dissatisfaction can be an unintended consequence that occurs in spite of a manager’s efforts to satisfy customers.

When managers give complete work assignments, employees know what they are expected to do and why. Giving complete work assignments to employees is important because:

• Employees will be more likely to satisfy customers and meet their managers' expectations because they will know exactly what they are expected to do.

• A company’s competitive position will be strengthened when each individual employee satisfies the company's customers.

• When employees do what they are expected to do, managers will be more successful in meeting their managers’ expectations.

• Employees will be less likely to complain about their work assignments because they will know the reasons for them.

• Managers and employees will have a common yardstick to evaluate the completed work.

A complete work assignment contains four types of information: what task is to be done; the reason for doing the task; the standards the completed task must meet; and all-purpose directions.

What task is to be done is a clearly stated description of the specific task you want the employee to do. Every work assignment should include this type of information.

Example: “Aaron, now that we’ve received this shipment, please make your top priority searching through all these boxes to find the special fittings that Jason’s Heating and Refrigeration ordered.”

The reason is an explanation for doing the task. This information is included in a work assignment when the reason is important or you give an employee a new assignment before they finish their current assignment.

Example: “Since they are our largest account, I'd like to get these special ordered fittings to their office as soon as we can.”

The standards are how the completed task will be evaluated. Standards should be included in every work assignment.

Example: “I’d like to get these fittings delivered to them today.”

All-purpose directions means telling employees to let you know when they have completed the task or if they have problems doing the task. This is particularly useful when time is critical. In addition, some managers have found all-purpose directions to be a very effective part of giving verbal work assignments to unionized employees.

Example: “Let me know when you find the fittings or if you run into any difficulties doing this.”

Asking prospects and customers what they expect is a very useful way to determine what the standards should be. This method allows managers to create standards based on a market's expectations. There are three kinds of market expectations.

• The features or benefits of a company's products or services that are important to the market. An example is an extensive inventory of equipment, parts, and supplies for a distributor of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration equipment.

• The features of a company's policies, procedures, properties, and non-core business functions that are important to its market. An example is how quickly billing inaccuracies are resolved to customers' satisfaction.

• How prospects and customers expect to be treated by a company's employees who have direct contact with customers. For example, a distributor’s customer service employees should not delay customers’ employees from getting to their job sites by engaging them in lengthy informal conversations.

In addition, internal customers should be asked what they expect from their internal suppliers. Field sales reps, for instance, might expect to be notified when their requests for sales literature or price quotes cannot be filled in a timely manner by sales administrative personnel.

These are the steps to give a complete work assignment:

1. Decide if giving a reason is appropriate.

2. Tell the employee:

• What you want them to do.

• If appropriate, the reason for doing the task.

• The standards you'll use to evaluate how well the task was done.

• To tell you when the task is completed or if there are any problems performing the task.

Below is an example of giving a complete work assignment.

Owner of HVACR equipment distributorship speaking to a newly hired subordinate:

“Ronnie, since this is your first day working the counter for us, I’d like to review what’s expected of you. Before you look up a part number, get a complete description of the part from the contractor. This will help you get the correct part number in the catalogue. Write down the part number before you go looking for it; don’t rely on your memory because it is too easy to forget the number while searching the shelves for the part. When you get back to the counter, make sure you’ve got the right part by showing it to the contractor before you process the sale. If you have any questions or problems during the day, ask Magnum or me.”

Without complete work assignments, employees are unlikely to consistently meet customer expectations. When this happens, managers typically complain to each other about their employees. Yet these managers have inadvertently created the very situation they complain about!

Worse, they'll blame the victim by saying the employee is "dumb," "lazy," "needs training," or has a "bad attitude." However, all the employee might need is complete and specific information about their assignments.

People perform better when they know what they are expected to do. Giving a complete work assignment tells employees what their managers - and customers - expect. When each employee more consistently satisfies customers, it helps to improve a company's competitive position because satisfied customers are more likely to come back.

Publication date: 01/08/2007

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