It’s human nature to avoid assignments that are difficult, boring or painful, even if they’re crucial to a company’s success. In their book Why Can’t We Get Anything Done Around Here? The smart manager’s guide to executing the work that delivers results, Robert E. Lefton and Jerome T. Loeb call these the “Big D” tasks, with “D” standing for the discipline needed to complete them. Their advice for managers who must assign a Big D task includes:
- Acknowledge that it won’t be fun: Don’t patronize the employee by pretending otherwise. Give them a chance to vent or talk through their misgivings, while you listen at a thinking level without being judgmental.
- Explain why it matters: Spell out the specific reasons the task must be completed. Enlist the employee’s commitment to getting it done, and their understanding of the costs their colleagues and the firm will incur if it is not.
- Build in checkpoints and set clear timelines: It’s tempting when you’re giving someone an unwelcome assignment to be “nice” to them by being vague about deadlines. But that’s asking for things to become far more unpleasant when the task isn’t finished when it needs to be, holding up other projects.
- Provide feedback during the project: As the employee reaches milestones towards completing the task, pay them “psychological income” in the form of praise. But if they’re procrastinating, confront it and talk it through.
- Don’t let them off the hook: Just as your direct reports must have the discipline to get the task done, you must have the discipline to uphold work standards. In the end, it’s up to you to insist that the task be completed.