Many people take the things they learned in school and carry it into the workplace. Most of the time this is okay, but there is one habit that is developed and even rewarded in school that if not left at the university grounds, could result in your termination at your job. This is the habit of overreaching.
Overreaching is the action of taking an educated guess at an answer. It’s what happens when you do not know for sure, but have the capability of taking a decent guess at the answer. In fact, one of my son’s professors had a name for this, it was called a “SWAG” - Sophisticated Wild A** Guess. Overreaching is a seemingly harmless habit built upon the desire to make other people happy. It is a habit formed in an environment where the benefits of an incorrect guess outweigh the consequences of a wrong answer.
The breeding ground
Chances are you have given a presentation or two during your lifetime.There is usually a projector, a clicker, an audience, and most importantly - YOU! And they all work the same - you introduce yourself, you discuss your topic, you conclude, and finally you have Q&A at the end. It is the Q&A portion that is the cause to the problem that I deal with all the time from new hires fresh out of school.
We get through school living by the truth that if you don’t know, you may as well guess! Because there is no penalty for an incorrect answer, you may as well guess as there is a chance you will be given points just for attempting an answer. Then to make problems worse, the dean of your school hands you a certificate telling you that what you have done for the past 4 years is good enough to move on to the next phase of your life, further validating that overreaching is okay.
Overreaching brought to the workplace
This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where I must caution you to really think about what I am saying next. In the classroom, the risk of overreaching may cause you to fall from an A+ to a B-, but in the real world, the risk of overreaching may cause you to lose the trust of your co-workers, or even worse - your job. Yes, my friends, the stakes are higher, and there is no longer a tolerance for incorrect information. As a business leader, I cannot afford to have an employee on my payroll that gives me incorrect information. Stop guessing, start delegating.
How to tell your boss “I don’t know” without losing credibility
You are going to be asked questions that you do not immediately know the answer to. And let me assure you, THIS IS OKAY. In the world we live in today, where information about anything is at our fingertips, it is becoming less important to know, and more important to be resourceful enough to find out. If you do not know, do not guess. Instead, employ the 4 components of delegation into your answer.
4 Components of Delegation
State your action
Commit to a time
Here is an example of the use of the 4 components of delegation in an answer:
Q: Is our current server scalable to support both our organic growth as well as our pending acquisition?
A: I am not certain, but I will find out if the server has the capacity to scale to the specific levels we need for both the organic growth and the pending acquisition and report back to you before 4:00pm today.
You see, now I am satisfied because I know who to expect an answer from and when to expect it. I am not frustrated that my employee did not have an answer right off the bat because I now know I can expect an accurate, well thought-out answer by the end of the day.
You are going to get questions that you do not immediately know the answer to. It is going to happen. But if you use the 4 components of delegation in your answer, I can guarantee you it will establish more trust between you and your co-workers as they will know that you are committed to finding out the correct answer, not just giving one that you are pretty sure is right.
In my world, there are no B+’s - There are A’s and there are F’s, nothing in-between.