Bring Task Communication to Life with the “IT DIE” Method

Do you often feel like you have clearly communicated what you expect, yet your team fails to take adequate action? Do you leave meetings with your boss or colleagues and wonder what action is going to be taken to move the team forward—and who is going to do it? Are you discouraged because your team can follow instructions but seems to lack the ability to be creative problem solvers? Are you frustrated by forced assumptions in communication?

If any of the above sounds like you or your team, then let IT DIE! The IT DIE task communication method ensures that communication is clear, comprehensive, and effective. Using the method will move individuals to action and provide the context to take action in the most effective way.

The IT DIE Task Communication Method

I – Individual
T – Task
D – Date
I – Inform
E – Explain

Individual

Tasks are typically initiated, led, and completed by an individual. One person should have the responsibility for ensuring that a task is completed. Don’t throw a task into a room and hope that someone picks it up, takes ownership, and gets it done. Give the task to an individual, clearly establish the expectations, and then empower the person to make it happen.

Have you ever been in a meeting and hear your boss say, “Somebody get me an updated sales forecast for the next three months!” Did you stop him to gain an understanding of who was going to take responsibility for the task? Chances are, there are instances when this kind of communication has occurred in a meeting—or, more likely, in an email—and multiple people have started working on the request separately and individually. This could not only create redundant work, but also bypass an opportunity for collaboration. Alternatively, the group could all assume that someone else will take ownership of the task, resulting in significant delays in task completion.

Tasks should be assigned to an individual. That individual should also be given the authority to reassign the task if there is someone who is more competent or available. If collaboration is necessary to effectively complete the task, then the individual assigned should pull in team members. A leader will quickly be selected by the team, and work begins.

It is imperative that you receive confirmation from the individual who has been given the task that s/he has accepted it. When the task is accepted, accountability has been established. An individual who is being held accountable for something s/he didn’t agree to can soon build up resistance or apathy toward completing the task. Alternatively, an individual who has accepted a challenge is more likely to view accountability as empowerment and reinforcement.

Task

In order for a task to be completed, the individual assigned must have a clearly defined task. This is common sense, right? You are probably thinking, “Luke, come on man! I always tell people exactly what I want them to do!” Do you? Always?

Have you ever sent or received an email that says something like this? “Joe, I noticed Customer X’s order did not go out yesterday.” What is Joe supposed to do with this information? It sounds to me like the sender could have intended for Joe to 1) explain what happened 2) detail when the order will be shipped 3) call the customer to provide an update 4) get the order out NOW! These are just a few of the potential reasons someone was communicating with Joe about the order.

If Joe is expected to take action, he needs to understand his task. It sounds like common sense, I know, but many of us need to be reminded to ask a question if we want an answer, or to state the task if we want the task completed.

Try this: “Joe, will you please find out the status of Customer X’s order that was supposed to go out yesterday and update the customer on the status by noon today? Also, gather the details on what happened and provide your recommendation on the next steps for remediation and long-term resolution by noon tomorrow. The on-time delivery numbers for Customer X have steadily declined to below 90% over the past quarter. We have a high-value project in the pipeline for them, and I want to be sure that we are serving them properly now and putting ourselves in a good position to land this new project.”

Initially it will take you a few more minutes to communicate tasks comprehensively, but in the end, it will save hours for you and your colleagues.

Check out our journey with Alabama Outdoors to create a custom communication platform tailored to their employees!

Date

Providing the date and time by which the task should be completed can be one of the most difficult parts of the IT DIE task communication method, from a consistency standpoint, but it is a critical component if you want your expectations to be met.

Have you ever asked anyone on your team for a report you need for a 9 a.m. meeting the next day, waited on the report all day, and then asked again the next morning at 8 a.m., only to discover that Jim hasn’t even started on it yet? You were angry, right? You might have thought to yourself, “I asked him for that report at 10 a.m. yesterday. He essentially had all day to send it. Now I have to go to the meeting unprepared. ARGH!” Maybe you take your irritation a step further and start wondering if Jim is competent, or if he should remain employed. Take it easy for a minute! Did you even tell him when you wanted it?

You expect your team to consistently be working on projects or initiatives that will add to the bottom line, right? You also expect them to prioritize their work in such a way so that they are enthusiastically engaged in the activities that could produce the greatest impact on earnings in the shortest amount of time, right? If this is true, then expect that your team will be following your stated objectives and your example. Anticipate that they are aggressively working on solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities. Now that you have a new perspective, can you understand why Jim may have thought, “I will get to that report as soon as I finish project A. Project A is going to add $500k to our bottom line, and I do not want to waste a second in getting the project approved and implemented.” Provide the date and time you want the task to be completed, and your expectations will be clearly established.

You may be thinking, “I don’t want to be so demanding that I am perceived as consistently forcing my priorities on others by telling them exactly when they must do something for me.” If that is the case, then ask them if they can have it done by a certain time and then come to an agreement as to when the task will be completed. Alternatively, share the IT DIE task communication method with your team so they know what to expect. Make them comfortable with asking for alternative completion dates, when there is a competing task that they feel may be more urgent.

The first step in having your expectations met by others is to clearly communicate them. If you expect your colleagues, boss, suppliers, customers, spouse, or children to read your mind or anticipate precisely what you want and when you want it, then you can expect to often be disappointed.

Inform

People need complete and accurate information in order to execute a task successfully. Information is an essential resource when it comes to making decisions and completing tasks. Just think about it: You acquired some information that led you to assign the task in the first place. Why would you have your colleague or subordinate waste time ascertaining the same information a second time? You wouldn’t; you know that doesn’t make sense.

Imagine walking into an auto repair shop, dropping the keys into the service manager’s hand, saying, “Repair my car please,” and then walking out and expecting the car to be ready the next day. That doesn’t make sense, right? The technician does not have nearly enough information to complete the repair successfully, and most likely would refuse to get started without an acceptable amount of information from you. You would want to describe the type of car problem, when it started, the sounds, the smells, and all sorts of details that would help with the diagnosis.

Commit to providing all the pertinent information that you have when assigning a task and expect results to improve.

Explain

Bring others in on the “why” behind the task. Think about why you are doing something or why you are asking someone else to do something, and then tell them. This affords them the opportunity to use creative problem solving to address the reason behind your task assignment.

In the course of taking action, exceptionally effective and creative people may find a better solution or course of action. When they understand the root of the problem or the big picture objective, they can efficiently divert their efforts to the clearest path to success. (Which may very well be something quite different than what they were asked to do.) Knowing the “why” gives creative problem solvers the need behind the need, and thereby blows the lid off constrained thinking, unlocking the unlimited potential for resolution.

Don’t limit your team to treating symptoms by the lone prescribed method you have identified when they could use the breadth of their collective knowledge to address the root cause. If you are looking to create robots, just give orders. If you are looking to build resourceful leaders, make sure you provide the “why.”

Conclusion

For me, this practice of structured task communication was birthed from necessity. When the concept was formed, I held a senior leadership position at a manufacturing company, and one of my areas of responsibility was the maintenance department. Our operating department leaders were frustrated because they did not feel that work was being prioritized properly or completed quickly enough. Our maintenance team was quite skilled in making repairs, but they were also frustrated because they did not always have the necessary information to set priorities and lacked critical details about the problems that they were being asked to resolve. Several leaders in the operating departments had become accustomed to sending an email to state that a problem existed. The message was often sent to between 5 – 25 people and was devoid of the elucidation necessary to successfully resolve the problem.

Most often, there wasn’t a discernible task or requested action included in the message, nor was an individual specifically addressed. A message might look something like this: “Machine #6 is down.” It seems that the hope may have been that someone who received the email might take ownership of it, determine what needed to be done, prioritize the task, and complete it in the expected (but not communicated) time frame. In other words, we needed to stop hoping and install an effective process to ensure success. Our system was broken and ineffective, so we decided to let IT DIE.

I love thinking, writing, and talking about communication. I am also a process guy. I generally build processes or methods that I use to get me kick-started toward resolving a problem or seizing an opportunity. I suppose it was these two traits that lead me to build the IT DIE task communication method.

At Airship, we are consistently building software products that are used as tools for ultra effective communication. Software can be an incredibly powerful tool for turning data into information that can be easily understood and swiftly employed to make timely managerial decisions.

I would love to hear from you and get your perspective on task, or any other form of communication. Check out my bio page to connect with me via email.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2016 and was updated in January 2018. Photo credit: Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

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