How to be specific and not too specific at the same time

Tell your employees exactly what is expected of them. 

But don’t tell them what to do. 

A client recently asked me how to balance these two instructions. 

We were building role descriptions and she wanted to know how to be specific enough that people knew what to do but also open enough that she wasn’t micromanaging their every move. 

As John Hagel III and Cathy Englebert write in the Harvard Business Review: “we need to specify more, and also, specify less.”

Specify more

There are some factors that are not negotiable in your business. 

These include your mission, your guiding principles, your brand identity. Your employees must behave in a way that will not compromise these decisions. 

To do that, you will also decide the departmental contributions (this is a more descriptive word than “goals”) to those decisions. 

Be specific about these factors and how they are recognized and measured. 

Be specific about “how [you] measure success and the metrics that drive it. 

Specify less

Once you have specified the points above, let your employees be free to work their magic. 

Allow each individual to work to their strengths. Allow them to use their own skills and preferences. 

Allow them to get the results you want, in the manner they prefer. 

The most they can use their preferences, the more they will feel ownership of their area and the more they will enjoy the work overall (leading directly to happy employees). 

You have set the standards and the mission, now “allow employees to freely, creatively pursue ways to reach it “: let them make it their own reality. 

How to manage your team

Good management is about managing expectations: both yours and theirs. 

What next

Answer quickly: if you could not speak to an employee for two weeks, what would worry you the most: their productivity, their output, their behavior, or something else? Make that your starting point: how will you balance specific expectations with open-ended direction?