SUMMARY: Can someone learn to be detail-oriented?

Subject: SUMMARY: Can someone learn to be detail-oriented?
From: Jill Burgchardt <jburgcha -at- pestilence -dot- itc -dot- nrcs -dot- usda -dot- gov>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 2 Sep 1999 08:44:37 -0600 (MDT)

Two weeks ago I asked the list whether someone could learn to be detail-oriented.
Here is the promised summary of responses. Since I received over 100 posted
and private responses, I'm going to try and synthesize the main responses:

1. The most common response (maybe 70%) was "I'm not detail-oriented and I do
a. Half of those who gave answer 1 added that checklists, matrices,
reading aloud, peer review, and other tools that reinforced attention to detail
were helpful.
b. One quarter of them told me I was a complete jerk/control
freak/anal-retentive b***h for enforcing my standards on a new person and trying
to make them my clone.
c. One quarter of them suggested that I assign her non-detail tasks.

2. Only about 20% felt that someone who lacked attention to detail could not
acquire sufficient skill in the area to make the situation work. Their
responses broke down pretty evenly:
a. Don't hire the person
b. Don't assign the person detail tasks.

3. Probably 10% of the responses--and I think all of these were private--were
from newbies who said how much they would appreciate the direction and support
of checklists, peer reviews, etc. These responses probably struck me the most,
because it's clear that there are lots of people out there with potential who
are struggling to meet unclear expectations. My heart really goes out to those
people. I know those responses made me take a very close look at how I worked
with my new person.

4. Interestingly, people in several of the above groups made statements that
implied a detail-oriented person is the opposite of a big-picture person. While
I can understand that, I've never thought of the skills as mutually exclusive.
One or two people did refer to it more as a continuum.

5. Several people suggested that if I apply peer review that it should work
both ways--she reviews mine, I review hers.

Now, regarding my situation.

I investigated the issue. My conclusion was that contrary to the briefing I'd
been given, it wasn't an issue of detail-oriented. The problem was communication
(is that ever a surprise?). The work my new person had done for her previous
client hadn't required the same attention to detail. She prepared work for the
new client as she always had. The new client had very different expectations,
but also a very busy schedule. The expectations weren't clear to the new person.
My new person was very eager to try anything that would salvage the situation,
so editing and checklists were never a problem with her. I intervened to clarify
expectations. Then, I edited to see that her response was at least one level
above the expectations.

Result: The government person sent a note to our boss expressing how happy she
is with the new person's work now.

My own projects have taken a back seat for the last week and a half, but I'm
looking forward to finishing up some revisions so that I can get the benefit of
HER reviewing MY work.

The resolution of this issue actually turned out to be wonderfully easy.

Jill Burgchardt
jburgchardt -at- pestilence -dot- itc -dot- nrcs -dot- usda -dot- gov

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