Some time ago, i asked a friend of mine to develop a poster for a staff association event. He pretty much got carte blanche for designing it. After a week, he send me the first proposal. The design was real good, but I was surprised to find that the club logo was not on the poster, so i gave him the “feedback sandwich”: positive – negative – positive remarks.
Next version i got was better, but after thorough review, i noticed that the location and website details were not displayed like on all our other posters. So i asked him to change, again. Afterwards it came to me what i was doing wrong: i was involving on the “how” of the job. I was my task to steer on output, on criteria, not on the how.
If you specify the criteria, the designer still has carte blanche, but his solution needs to meet certain criteria. To get back to our story, for the next poster i decided to steer on criteria. He could make whatever he wanted, but on the poster, the address, website, club logo and responsible editor needed to be mentioned. And so it was.
The output manager
By steering on criteria, you do not get involved as manager in the how of the assignment. This gives you some control of the results to be produced, and the assignee the freedom to use his creativity. Success is defined by meeting the criteria of the assignment.
The challenge here is actually for the manager: managers tend to hit the pitfall of “knowing it better” and getting involved in the how of the assignment. This will give the assignee the impression of distrust and is known as a killer for motivation and creative ideas.
You decide to replace the central heating system of your house. It’s not a job you can do yourself, so you contact a contractor. At your home, you ask for heating system XYZ because you heard it was a very energy efficient system. Also, the living room has to have 2 nice design radiators of 1 on 1,5m. The contractor can fill in the rest of the details.
When you pick this approach you might have some problems in a strong winter: it looks like your heating system is not up for the challenge and cannot produce the cozy warmth of 21 degrees Celcius. The problem here is that you were involved in the “how” of the job of an expert, and have made some wrong choices. You cannot take this up with the contractor, because he has delivered what you asked for.
How would you give the same assignment when steering on criteria? Specify why you want the new heating system: it needs to be energy efficient. Further, you can specify the brand of your radiators, but not the exact size. Last but not least, during the winters the heating system needs to be able to produce 21 degrees Celcius inside when the temperature outside is -15 degrees Celcius.
This way the contractor can choose the best solution because he knows what your needs are.