S is for Specific.

“That was a great report!” vs.”I loved the way you used white space in that report and the pull quotes on the side were pure genius. Best of all though, was the content: Clear, concise and at exactly the right level of detail. The tone you used was also spot on: Casual and accessible without being condescending. Thank you for doing such a great job.”

“All weekly status reports must be completed in a timely manner.” vs.

“Weekly status reports are due by noon every Friday. Please email them to me using the attached format.”

“I want you to lead this project. You’ve shown such exemplary leadership, I know you’re up to it. Any questions?” vs.

“Biff, the plunger improvement project needs your skills. I’ve watched you pull together teams that were fighting and get them working together to come up with innovative approaches. The fly swatter improvement project you led was breath-taking. No one else would have thought to use the fly’s sense of smell against it like that. We need that kind of breakthrough thinking here. What questions do you have so far?”

Specific. It’s a matter of giving someone enough information to be successful rather than giving them a vague notion and shoving them off a cliff. When you follow-up, you find out how unclear you are. These too aspects of the SMART goals create an ideal communication loop.

And there’s a bonus: When you are specific, you find out exactly how much control you are willing to give up. Here’s the surprising part:

The more specifc you are, they less likely you are to micro-manage. I think we often believe that when we are vague, we are showing respect, and giving them plenty of room. There are 2 problems with this: 1) Being vague means you are asking someone to read your mind. This is not a management skill. 2) Being vague is what we do when we aren’t ready to give up control. In either case, the see-sawing begins: Vague directions and expressions of confidence alternate with intense micro-managing or doing it yourself. There are many, many flavors between giving someone absolute freedom and micro-managing them within an inch of their lives.

When you’re specific, it gives someone a more precise target to shoot for. It lets you know when to step in and when to butt out. When you are specific about what you want to see, what you liked, what you want done, you will be more comfortable leaving how it gets done to someone else. Conversely, when you are vague about what you want, your only recourse is to micro-manage. That’s because the specifcs you thought obvious aren’t. Not until you speak them. My advice: Do this in the beginning so your employees can spend their energy producing amazing work rather than trying to guess what’s in your head. The world is still waiting for a breakthrough plunger technology.

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