3 Reasons Leaders Need to Get into the Details

Much of my work with organizations and individuals centers around communication. How we build and maintain relationships is all about communication. What and how we communicate tells the world our values and identity.

Have you heard the phrase, “the devil is in the details?” It’s a common idiom that means mistakes happen when it comes to the small details of a project. Usually, it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. Interestingly, an older phrase, “God is in the details,” means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important.

I’m going to take the more positive stance, “God is in the details,” to make my case for why details in communication will also result in big rewards.

Here are three benefits of communicating specific details;

  1. Expectations are clearly understood. Whether it’s at work or home, when you clearly outline the details of what you expect, you reduce the chance of conflict and disappointment. Describing the who, what, when, where, (notice I didn’t mention how?) and then asking a question to confirm their understanding is the magic formula. Unless the person you’re communicating with has no idea HOW to meet the expectation, you want to leave that up to them. Otherwise, you come off as micro-managing, which is a different blog topic.
  2. Overall performance is improved. When we give feedback, it needs to be specific. It’s the only way people understand exactly what they either need to do differently or, if it’s positive, what they should continue. Focus on the behaviors that you observed or words you heard. “You missed the deadline by two days, and there was a calculation error in the month-end total.” It is a message that is not an attack on the person. They understand exactly what needs to be done differently in the future. When you use an evaluative statement like, “The quality of your work is poor, and deadlines must mean nothing to you.” The person receiving the feedback will likely get defensive and won’t know precisely what they did wrong.
  3. A future Vision becomes a reality. When leaders communicate their vision for the future, it can often be too theoretical. Communicating the details about how to make that Vision come to life requires the specific description of actions/behaviors. Leaders must be able to answer the question, “how does this impact me/my department?”. For example, “Nordstrom works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.” is the Vision. To translate that into something that is actionable, the leader must articulate the role a person/department plays in making that vision a reality. A Buyer must offer an assortment of products considering geographic preferences. Or a Store Associate needs to approach a customer within 2 minutes of walking into the department, introduce themselves and offer assistance to the customer. That level of detail helps the employee understand how they contribute to the achievement of that Vision.

While getting into the details may take a bit more time and effort upfront, it creates efficiencies, reduces frustration, and makes a world of difference in building relationships.

If leaders don’t provide the details in their message, it puts the burden on the receiver to figure it out or make it up. The responsible leader will not leave the message interpretation to chance when there is simply too much at stake.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.