Communication; Criticism and Discipline; Leadership; Motivation

tHe bUNGled assiGNMeNt

Primary Topic—Delegation

Additional Topics—Communication; Criticism and Discipline; Leadership; Motivation

“I’m afraid that this report of yours is practically useless,” said John Kaye, director of biomedical engineering, to his secretary, Sharon. “You used some wrong numbers in several critical places, and I’ve found enough errors in arithmetic to make me doubt the value of any of the percentages you came up with. Frankly, Sharon, I’m surprised. This isn’t your kind of output at all.”

“I know it isn’t,” Sharon said. “I didn’t feel good about it while I was doing it, but I did the best I could do with what I had. Remember, this isn’t my normal kind of work at all.”

Kaye said, “You might have asked a few more questions if you had doubts about where you were going. When I didn’t hear from you these last several days I felt that everything must have been going okay.”

“That wasn’t so,” said Sharon. “I was snowed, and I knew it. I asked you four or five questions during the first 2 days, remember? But you seemed annoyed with the interruptions. You made me feel like I shouldn’t be bothering you. So I decided to tough it out and do the best I could by myself.”

“That was the wrong decision,” Kaye said. “You may have done no more than remind me that I should never delegate an assignment unless I know for certain that the person is qualified to handle it.”

“It seems to me that if you need that kind of certainty you’ll never delegate any- thing. Or at least anything that’s new and different.”

Kaye shrugged and asked, “What do you think went wrong here? Didn’t I com- municate my needs clearly when I assigned the job?”

“Yes, you did,” Sharon answered. “At least I felt that I knew what you wanted of me. But once I got into the job the questions began to pop up—all sorts of things that I didn’t expect and didn’t know about—and before I knew it I was really in the woods. And you seemed so busy that I quickly came to feel uneasy about bothering you.”

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“We seem to be left with two open questions,” said Kaye. “First, what do we do to salvage this particular assignment? Second—and probably more important—what can we do to keep this sort of thing from happening again?”


Offer your detailed suggestions for dealing with the two questions posed by John Kaye in the final paragraph of the case.

74 Case 25: The Bungled Assignment

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