30 Career Management Tips — Understand your task requirements

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Sep 11

This month, I’m providing a career management tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own career management activities.

Today’s tip: Understand your task requirements.

One of the things we are consistently asked to do as cubicle warriors is to complete tasks given to us by management. Early in my career, I had a hard time getting the task done right the first time. When I sat down to analyze why this was the case, it turned out that I listened to what was asked of me, wrote down what I thought it meant, and then went and did the task.

But, I never confirmed that what I heard was what was being asked of me. consequently, I’d return to my manager all proud of what I had done on the day it was due and find out that what I had done wasn’t what the manager meant for me to do.

This is bad for several reasons:

  • You didn’t deliver what was expected
  • You left no time to recover from your misunderstanding — and were late
  • You lost your manager’s confidence every time you used this process

If you are really good at what you do, you’ll figure out that when given a task by your manager, you’ll go through a little process to make sure you know what is really needed for completion of the task:

  • Repeat what the deliverable is to the manager. Just repeating the deliverable will clear up a multitude of “I thought you meant X” type of misunderstandings.
  • Repeat when the due date is for the deliverable. You heard one thing, the manager meant due to the client, but wanted it earlier to review.
  • Review the format of the deliverable. Excel spreadsheet? Include graphs? What graphs do you want to see? What types of graphs should be presented — pie charts, bar charts? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve delivered something to the manager based upon this — and then the manager changes their mind about the type of format to provide.
  • Most important: review the work with your manager with enough time to totally change the format provided before the delivery date. I’ve been in way too many meetings where we are preparing a presentation for upper management and the day before the presentation is due we show the presentation to the presenting manager. Manager goes…can we change this, add this, research this, include this, remove this, etc…and the people who worked this project pull an all-nighter just to make these changes. Even though what is needed now is very different then what was asked for in the beginning. The day of the presentation, the presenting manager isn’t happy because it’s still not the way he or she wanted it presented.

Now, this feels very stilted if you have never done this before. You listen, then take notes, then repeat what you have understood back to your manager. It’s not easy. It sounds trivial. But the first time you do it, you will be very surprised at how different what was asked of you is compared to what you heard.

It’s your responsibility to completely understand the requirements of your task. Doing so enables you to completely deliver what is expected, in the right format, on time.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is rare in today’s fast-paced Corporate Earth.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.