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When Does Done Mean Done?

How many times have you asked someone to do something for you and when they tell you they’ve done it you come to find out it’s really not done? It can happen when driving home after having your car repaired, opening the bag on a takeout order, or having your kids clean their room. The task was only partially completed or it is riddled with errors. Either way, it doesn’t matter, done didn’t mean done.

For managers, this is a real frustration. They end up playing the quality assurance role for someone else, meanwhile time is stolen away from other things they needed to do. Managers want the work to be done right the first time.

Done means done when the end result matches the expectation of the requestor. Now we all know there is a lot to this statement: does the requestor know what they want and is the person responsible for the task capable of doing the work? The majority of the time the answer to these questions is yes. So what makes it so hard to do?

Basically, this is a work quality issue. No one sets out to screw things up, it just happens; and, usually because employees were rushed for time, uninformed, or lacked an orientation to detail. While these can seem like reasonable excuses, they are not. They can all be overcome with some initial forethought and effort.

Employees shouldn’t wait until the last minute to tackle a task. That way they will have time to complete the task in its entirety and review their work for errors without being rushed. They shouldn’t play the victim role by saying “I wasn’t told this” or “I didn’t know about that” because their work missed the mark. They are responsible for finding out all the information needed to make sure their work matches the expectation of the requestor. When assigned a task employees should use the 5 W’s to find out all there is to know: Who is going to use this information? What format is needed? When do you want it finished? Where is the data located? Why is this so important? Lastly, if an employee lacks an orientation to detail, they should have a co-worker review their work to uncover anything that is missing or in error. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Not having an orientation to detail is a common weakness; and having work reviewed by someone else is a great coping mechanism.

Take Jerry, for example, who called one of his new employees, Kelly, into his office to ask her to prepare a report for him. After telling her what he wanted, Kelly started asking a series of questions. Jerry was caught off-guard and a little bothered at first, but then realized Kelly was gathering what she needed to do the job. A week later the report was delivered on time and after Jerry reviewed it he was surprisingly amazed at the level of detail and completeness from someone so new to the organization. He called Kelly back into his office and asked her how she was able to do this. She replied that she developed the initial draft and then took it to two co-workers to review and they gave her a handful of suggestions that she then incorporated. As Kelly was leaving Jerry’s office, he smiled and thought to himself, wow, that’s a great hire.

Yes, making sure done means done takes extra effort and discipline, but doing so is what separates the great employees from the good ones.