We cannot possibly do absolutely everything ourselves, and we often need a hand from others to get things done. Perhaps we have more things to do than we have space, time and energy for and therefore need to delegate certain things, or perhaps we lack the expertise needed for doing all the elements of a more extensive task. Thus, we ask someone to help us and do something for us.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
The task is up for some competition
But, other people have other things to do as well. They too have a long to-do list with tasks to prioritize amongst. If we are dependent on having something done for us by a particular date, we need to make sure that the person we delegate to prioritizes ”our” task so that they finish on time, and we can meet our deadline as well.
Whips and carrots
You have probably noticed how others who have delegated tasks to you have had one or two tricks up their sleeves to make you prioritize their particular task amongst all others. Someone uses a harsher tone, someone else flatters you, and a third person makes it sound as if it is the most important thing ever so that everyone drops whatever they are doing to come to the rescue.
By hand or preprinted?
An American study implies that we will be better off by using a much nicer trick that is just as efficient as its more nasty counterparts if we want others to prioritize doing what we want them to do. Randy Garner at Sam Houston State University in Texas sent an extensive survey on paper to 150 randomly selected professors. For fifty of these, he attached a preprinted, formal cover letter. For another fifty he wrote a hand-written note and signature on the cover letter, and for the remaining fifty professors he wrote a quick message on a Post-it-note which he attached to the cover letter.
What happened? Well, the ones who had received the yellow Post-it answered the survey to a drastically greater extent than the others: 76% of the respondents (yellow Post-it) answered it compared to 48% (handwritten signature on the cover letter) and 36% (cover letter without personal signature or handwritten note).
Being personal makes the difference
Is it the yellow note in itself that made the difference? Garner made a few more tests, now including handwritten yellow notes, empty yellow notes, no yellow notes, longer survey, shorter survey, different kinds of notes and cover letters, and so on.
He found that when the survey had a personal note attached to it, preferably written on a clearly visible yellow note, considerably more people responded to the questionnaire. Somehow, it made the task of filling out the survey feel more important and doing so was thus prioritized amongst all the respondents’ other tasks.
Garner concluded that when someone delegates a task in a personal manner and we perceive it more as a request for help from one person to another as if we are almost being asked in confidence to do something, we want to respond to this request to a greater extent than we otherwise would. At closer thought, this reaction is quite natural. If someone personally asks us for help we are more prone and inclined to help than if receiving a request for assistance from a group or having an organization more or less inform us that something is expected from us.
If you want to take advantage of Garner’s results and his interpretation of these, then do the following:
When you are delegating a task either today or in the next few days, take a few extra moments to think about how you can personalize the delegation to a greater extent than you usually do, so that it becomes clear that you are asking for a favor one person to another.
You need not include a Post-it, but use something else that is as much ”you” as possible.
How and what? Well, only you can answer that.
Back on time
You see, if we are more personal when addressing others as we delegate tasks and ask for help, we will to a greater extent than previously get the assistance we need and on time, since what we delegate now is perceived as having higher priority with the recipient — at least judging by Garner’s study. And besides, the communication between you and the other person will be more pleasant, and that’s as good reason as any to be more friendly and personal.
How do you personalize?
How do you ensure that what you ask for help with gets prioritized and done quickly by the one you delegate to? Tell me!
(But, what tasks could you delegate? I can help you figure that out.)
There's more where this came from
If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.