What to do if a colleague’s work isn’t up to scratch

June 11, 2018

You’ve delegated a task to a colleague. They’ve been working on it without needing any help from you – or so it seemed.


Finally, the time comes for you to review what they’ve done.

Frankly, the work isn’t up to the standard required. What can you do?

First of all, well done for getting past first base and actually delegating something; lots of managers struggle with the very idea of handing a job over to someone else. When the work’s just not good enough though, there are several possible explanations.

For example, the person you delegated to:

  • Didn’t appreciate the standard required (possibly because you didn’t show them or the example given wasn’t sufficiently clear).
  • Didn’t have the skills necessary to complete the task to the right standard (and didn’t want to own up to that).
  • Wasn’t given enough time to get the job done right, or couldn’t see how long it would take to get done right.
  • Got side-tracked doing something else and then rushed the job.


Clear delegation

Maybe, just maybe, some of these possible reasons could be down to how you delegated the task. So it’s worth asking yourself the following questions:

  • Did you give them an example? Examples are the Swiss army knife of delegation: they show what’s needed and the standard required, saving you both heaps of time trying to explain and understand.
  • Did you ask open questions to check the person has the requisite skills to do the job?
  • Did you clarify how long the task typically takes, and allow for the fact that learners take longer?
  • Did you discuss the person’s workload and priorities and clarify timing and deadlines?

Another ‘well done’ if you can answer ‘yes’ to all these questions.


Coaching debrief

But what if you’ve got the delegation discussion right? The person was given examples, has the skills, was given the time, and they simply didn’t do a good enough job?

  • Ask them to identify how their work is similar and different to the example – it may be they’ll figure out for themselves where they’ve gone off course. If they really can’t see a difference, you will need to point this out and explain really clearly.
  • Ask them to outline the steps they took to complete the task – they may have missed some out. You will need to coach them to identify cause and effect of missed steps.
  • Ask how long it took them to do the work. If they confess they rushed it, you can ask them how long they now need to get it right – and how long they’ll allow to get it right first time, next time.
  • Ask them what they found easy and what they found difficult. It may be their skills aren’t as developed as they thought and you were led to believe. Discuss with them how they can boost those skills with practice and feedback.
  • Ask them what they’ll do differently next time to hit the required standard.
  • Ask them what support they need from you to get the task done.

Notice that all these suggestions begin with ‘ask’. If you care about the work, it will be all too easy for you to lecture the hapless colleague about how to do the job right. But engaging them in conversation in a way that helps them figure out the solutions for themselves will be much more likely to benefit both of you. You’ll be coaching rather than reprimanding them. They’ll be more motivated and likely to take greater responsibility for getting it right in future.


About the author

Dawn SillettDawn Sillett has been designing and delivering training workshops and executive coaching for over 15 years.


Author of: The Feedback Book

THE FEEDBACK BOOKMaintaining performance today is no longer simply about having an annual appraisal and telling employees “you must try harder”. Research demonstrates that regular discussions about performance and providing feedback to the people you manage is a more effective way to motivate them and keep them on track.Distilled into this single, handy-sized volume are 50 tips, advice and techniques to help any manager become quickly skilled at regularly discussing performance, setting goals and objectives and providing the necessary feedback to ensure individuals and teams thrive in the company. Structured into five key parts, each of the 50 concise chapters also contains a practical exercise to help the reader understand and implement the concepts and ideas of this book.

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