How to set a task in a complex work environment

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 17, 2007
Filed in Collaboration, Strategy

One of the most useful books I own is Gary Klein’s “Intuition at Work: Why Developing Your Gut Instincts Will Make You Better at What You Do”. Gary takes the mystery out of intuition and explains it as tacit knowledge we develop through experience. What I really like about Gary’s books are the practical techniques and so I thought I would share this one with you which is a process for communicating executive intent, or to put it more plainly, how to give directions without telling people how to suck eggs.

In this case Gary Klein is building on some advice Karl Weick’s gave on giving directions:

  • Here’s what I think we face.
  • Here’s what I think we should do.
  • Here’s why.
  • Here’s what we should keep our eye on.
  • Now talk to me.

Klein translated this script into the acronym, STICC: situation, task, intent, concerns, calibration.

Situation. (Here what I think we face) Start with providing the context for the task. What has happened that lead to this need? Grab their attention in the telling. Use all the ideas described by the brothers Heath best seller, Made to Stick. It’s important that the person taking on the task understand its importance and how it fits in to the bigger picture.

Task. (Here’s what I think we should do) Keep it short and to the point. You can elaborate later. When describing the task avoid describing how it should be done and keep focussed on what needs to be done. People hate to be told how to do their jobs.

Intent. (Here’s why) Here is where you describe the purpose of the task. Why the task/project need to be done. If you have a picture of what the end point looks like this is the time to share that vision. In a complex and unpredictable environment the best you might be able to do it describe some of the characteristics of a successful completion.

Concerns (Here’s what we should keep our eye on) Chances are you have had experiences in these types of projects and you know the sort of thing someone should keep an eye on. If you don’t you might want to get someone in the meeting who does have that experience. Running a mini pre-mortem could be useful.

Calibration (Now talk to me) This is the essential step. Now make yourself available for questions and follow up discussions. As soon as someone on a task new questions will emerge and patterns will arise. This might lead to tremendous insights and accelerated accomplishment or lighting fast pursuit of a white rabbit down a long and dark hole. Being open to get together during the task helps you act as an effective guide while enabling the person doing the task to keep on track to deliver a quality result.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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