Reengagement 180 Podcast #15 – That’s Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

You’ve worked so hard on a project, a report, or a presentation. In return, you hear eight little words guaranteed to take the wind out of your sails: “That’s not exactly what I had in mind.” In this week’s podcast, let’s take a look at how to close the expectation gap for both managers and employees as we start a special, 2-part Reengagement 180.


One of the first lessons a new manager inevitably learns is the importance of delegation. Unfortunately, many have only experienced one-way, task-oriented delegation throughout their career: their boss instructs them on what should be done (sometimes including how it should be done), what the deliverable should look like, and by when the assignment should be completed. It’s most often this directive, manager-centric form of delegation that is replicated throughout every level of an organization, and across generations of up-and-coming supervisors and managers.

What’s really going on is that the manager has a collection of assumptions, timelines, background knowledge, and memories of prior deliverables (including those of former employees) swirling around in his or her mind. Add to this whatever complex dynamics of organizational politics may be happening, and you have a massive amount of tacit stuff that is actually informing the overall expectation. What is explicitly delegated is a specific task. What is actually expected is contained in that mashed-up collection of mental images and competing pressures that never quite finds its way into the act of delegation itself. Needless to say, it’s all that other stuff which gives the specific task context and meaning. Making matters even worse is the fact that that typically, the manager demonstrates little concern for the effects that delegating said task will have on the employee’s other responsibilities and commitments. All of this combines to limit the employee’s ability to truly bring their best to their work. Indeed, manager-centric delegation – typically touted as “best practices” – usually has the cumulative effect of increasing employee frustration and disengagement.

In the practice of Appreciative Management, delegation is reframed as sharing the accomplishment of specific intention among colleagues, irrespective of hierarchical relationships.  Appreciative Delegation is enacted through a “Request and Promise” script. It works like this:

In making a request of someone else, you describe what needs to be done, the context or larger business purpose that the task serves (that is, to whom it’s important and why), when it’s needed, and why it’s needed according to that particular schedule. You also describe, to the best of your knowledge, who else is affected by the task and why it’s important to them. Given all of that context, the person of whom the request is made can respond in one of several ways:

They may accept the task as specified, in the timeframe requested. They also have the right to refuse either the scope of the work, or the requested deadline, noting that these two are intimately related. We’ll unpack this one in a moment. Finally, they may commit to commit later, deferring a response until they’ve had time to fully comprehend the implications of accepting.

Saying “no” to a delegated task may seem like a career-limiting move, but think of it this way: A person who is not free to say, “No” is not truly free to say “Yes,” either, since the “Yes” could simply be a required, rote response with no real intention to deliver in an appropriate fashion. In reality, the “No” might well be the most appropriate and responsible response, suggesting an unrealistic timeframe or inappropriate task scope. There is also the possibility of suggesting a far more effective way of accomplishing the real business intention, rather than what was originally delegated. Whatever the reason, the person must feel truly free to open a conversation about the parameters of the assignment, and that’s why it’s crucial for all concerned to fully understanding the relative importance to everyone who is touched by the outcome— the principle of tactility.

Finally, once the task and timeframe are mutually agreed, all parties agree to specific, periodic check-ins so that any changes in the circumstance on either side relative to progress, context, or completion can be taken into account. After all, nothing kills motivation and engagement faster than being told, “Oh, right. I forgot to let you know. We didn’t really need it after all.”

But what if after all that, your manager still responds with, “That’s not exactly what I had in mind?” More on that in Part 2, next time on Reengagement 180.

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Reengagement 180 #16 – That’s Not Exactly What I Had in Mind, Part II