My wife broke her leg recently so I’ve been doing all the driving and grocery shopping. She is able to use a wheeled stool to get around the kitchen and cook again which she is very grateful for – as am I – so her menus inform what I’m to get at the store.
One night at dinner she said to me, “The chicken stock makes the rice too salty”. I’ve been married long enough to know there was more to that statement than met the ears.
“Oh,” I said, “Did I buy the wrong kind of stock?” She nodded. “Should I have bought the low-sodium kind?” She nodded again. “But it didn’t say that on the list.” I said, more by way of explanation than self-defense.
Her response to me is the reason you should be interested in this post. She said “It never occurred to me that there was any other kind.” Never occurred to her. Never?
Of course she KNOWS there are other kinds of chicken stock. It’s just that this is the kind she’s used for so long that the others are not part of her conscious thinking anymore.
To be an effective shopping manager, she needs to think differently than she does as an effective shopper.
It’s the same reason we’re eating lots of mushrooms this week. She prints a list from the grocery chain website. The list said “ Mushrooms are on sale – 3 boxes for $5” and it didn’t say “We only need one box.” But I digress.
This is actually a pain in the ass for her. And I sympathize. She’s frustrated with having to spell all that stuff out. And frustrated when I call from the store asking about what I’m sure she considers stupid details. And she’s more frustrated because when she shops, she does make a list but also makes a lot of decisions and changes on the fly. These are triggered by what she sees on the shelf. And it ties into what she’s got coupons for and even changes her plans of what to cook. This is all very hard to translate into instructions for someone else to follow. Even someone as smart and motivated (did I say rich and good looking?) as I am.
The truth is, in our case it’s just not worth it for her to become a better shopping manager. We’ll muddle through and she should be driving again in a month or so. But in your case, if you want to free yourself from performing a function AND you want someone to do it as well (or better) than you, you have to become a better manager. Here are some tips:
1. Use details. Lots of details. A manager (or delegator) has to think differently than a doer. List the specifics of the outcome you really want – even the minutia that should be obvious. And consider the context of the decisions you’d make if you were doing the job. Then make those explicit. This is one reason it helps to write things down. It’s harder to be vague on paper.
2. Allow more time than you think it should take. You won’t be good at explaining everything right away and the other person will need some time to learn how you think. The more nuanced the job is, and the more experienced you are the more time it will take. Schedule some time for review and ongoing training. Schedule it before the deadlines are due so you have time to correct mistakes and omissions.
3. Use Verbs. Too often we give someone a list of To Do items that includes only nouns. When your list says “Conference Topics” it may not be obvious what you want them to do about Conference Topics. Do you want that person to suggest topics for the upcoming conference? Do you want them to interview others about what topic they’d like to see? Are you giving this person the authority to decide on the topics or just to recommend? The answer lies in verbs.