If you want something done properly, do you have to do it yourself?

Have you heard anyone express this?  Perhaps you say it about yourself.

“If I want anything done properly around here, I have to do it myself.”

Most often this is a passive aggressive complaint about how incompetent, stupid or lazy everyone else is.  A complaint that suggests how competent, intelligent and industrious the complainer is.  Be honest now.  😉  The complainer gets to wear the crown of the persecuted lonely competent and stand apart – above rather – from the ordinary and common incompetents s/he is surrounded by.

Sometimes this complaint is warranted, and most times it has nothing to do with the competence, intelligence or willingness to get the job done of the persons who are being asked to fulfill requests, and everything to do with poor training of how to make a request.

In other words, if you find yourself constantly disappointed in the work that people are doing for you, there is someplace else to look besides blaming them or concluding that you must do the work yourself.

Do you know how to make a request?

Many people just don’t know how to make a request, or constitute a promise for that matter.  I continually witness people accepting requests i.e. making promises with no clear agreement on what exactly the request is, or more accurately how will there be agreement that the request has been met to the satisfaction of the requester.

There is one key element (there are others) to making an effective request that I want to highlight here and this element answers the question:

How will you know that you’ve done what I’ve asked?

Short of a smile and a pat on the back, there must be some way that you can feel confident ahead of time i.e. before you even agree to my request, that you know the desired situation I am asking you to produce for me.

Indeed I must be very clear about the important details of the situation you are asking me to produce, whether it is a company event, conference, competitive analysis, new hire, or pick up some bread on the way home; before I even accept the request.

  • I need to know the finer points about the specifications of what you’re asking to determine if I am even able to accept your request.
  • I need to know what about the situation you are asking me to produce for you is important to you.
  • I need to know what conditions of satisfaction, or what specifications of the situation you are asking me to produce, will satisfy you.

Conditions of Satisfaction should always be established

If you ask an architect to design a house for you and s/he accepts without asking what kind of house, how many bedrooms, bathrooms, levels, what color, what price range etc., s/he’s most likely going to fail.  Silly example, but it applies in the business world.   People continually accept requests without being clear on the conditions of satisfaction.

Unless clear standards are already established and communicated, requests like (let’s hope they begin with the word please) …

  • Write an analysis of last quarter’s results,
  • Hire a new assistant
  • Entertain the client
  • Create a marketing brochure
  • Expand the department
  • Take me out for a night on the town
  • Help me get a new boyfriend/girlfriend

… should not be accepted.  They all beg for the follow up questions that would establish the conditions of satisfaction for the originator of the request to be satisfied.

Note Conditions of Satisfaction and Requirements are not the same thing

Conditions of Satisfaction refer to a particular state or states (conditions) that exist at the time you have fulfilled on your promise.   These are the conditions or states that must be made as objective as possible for both parties – the person who made the request to produce something, and the person who promised to produce that something – to agree that that something was indeed produced to the satisfaction of the person who made the request.

A requirement refers to a resource, situation, or condition necessary to produce a situation.  They are often mixed up.

Conditions of Satisfaction imply your Standard of Care

Everything you or your organization does is done to a specific standard of care.  There is nothing wrong about one standard of care vs. another it’s just that people tend to prefer one standard over another.  Some, like a teenager’s sloppy room vs. a bedroom in a beautiful Home magazine is merely an aesthetic preference.  Others like the medical care at a poorly funded inner city hospital vs. Bethesda Medical Center could mean the difference between life and death.

There is a strong correlation between your personal brand (reputation) with your practice of care, and being explicit about your conditions of satisfaction for each request you make is essential to establishing your personal brand as someone who can be counted on to deliver work to a certain standard and to do what s/he says.  In addition, timely specification of your conditions of satisfaction also helps other people (those to whom you are making requests) help you.

So the next time you hear someone complain that they must do everything themselves ask them to consider that their requests may have unclear conditions of satisfaction. Gulp, they may be partly responsible for the poor performance of their staff.


  • Always write down the conditions of satisfaction of each request/promise to avoid confusion and excuses if things go wrong.
  • Do not assume that this is so fundamental as to be obvious.  Often it is the most basic of principles that are missing or not practiced when breakdowns occur.

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