Without clearly defining a task, work can be completed below or above expectation. In both instances, resources are ineffectively used.

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Effectively assigning tasks to Direct Reports is a challenge for Managers at any level. The goal is to ensure that the two people participating share the exact expectations on the end state and the path to get there.

Remember, the intent is for the Manager to set up the Direct Report for success – the completion of the task to expectation. The onus is always on the Manager to ensure there is clarity around expectations.

Here’s how you do it. First, align the work, then follow the steps in the world’s worst acronym, CPQQTRD.

Alignment before Assignment

This is the work of the Manager prior to the task assignment. Before assigning, the Manager must understand the nature of the work and how it fits in the work of her team.

  • What is particular about this work?
  • To whom should I assign this work?
  • What will he need from me, from the team, from the organization?
  • What are the characteristics of the end state?



Here, the Manager describes the “world” in which this task must be completed. It’s the “big picture” description. Clarity on context provides the Direct Report with a perspective that allows him to make better decisions around this task.

  • Why is the task important? To the strategy? To me? To my Manager?
  • Where does it fit in to other work being done by my team and others?
  • With this specific task and with this specific Direct Report, what needs to be known in order to successfully accomplish the task?
  • What other things might affect this work?


This is where the Manager describes her intent.

  • What does the end state “look” like?
  • When the work is done, what does it need to do?


The Manager needs to be able to specify the exact quantities involved at the end state.

  • How much, of what, needs to be produced? E.g. Number of manufactured units, length of report to write, the weight of deliverable, etc.


The Manager needs to articulate to what standard the end state needs to conform. It is the specification of what “good” or “complete” means in this assignment. Quality is the most challenging part of CPQQTRD to describe because often “good” is subjective.

  • What exactly does “good” look like?
  • For a detailed description of the “Quality” in CPQQTRD, get your free copy of Forrest’s Quality Worksheet here.


The Manager must describe how time relates to the task. Avoid saying “as soon as you can” or “when you have time” unless you really don’t have a deadline; in which case, is it really a task?

  • When exactly does this task need to be complete?
  • How much time is allocated to complete the task?

Resources and Restrictions

The Manager adds value to task completion by providing the resources that the Direct Report needs to succeed, and by specifying any particular inflexible parameters on the work.

  • What are the things the Direct Report must have / may need to accomplish this task, and how am I, the Manager, going to provide them? E.g. IT support, budget, mailing lists, team member days, cross-functional authority


A task assignment is a two-way conversation.

  • The Direct Report is expected to provide his “Best Advice” – his perspective and input on the task.
  • The DR asks questions for clarity
  • The Manager asks questions to confirm understanding

Adapted from Ian Macdonald, Catherine Burke, Karl Stewart, Systems Leadership: Creating Positive Organisations, 2nd Ed, 2018

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