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Are you available, or appropriate?

Are you available to help? Being available isn’t enough.

Someone is drowning in the middle of a lake. Your taller, stronger friend is available. But he can’t swim. Do you ask him to help? No, he’ll drown and die. What if it’s his child that’s drowning? That’s going to make him even more inclined to help. He’s still not the right person to help, even though he’s highly available and motivated.

The information worker is rarely spared this distinction. A person who is “available” on a project is usually enough even though they may not be the appropriate person for the job. A lazy manager might say “assign it to whomever is available” without regard for the risk that the team may incur.

“Hey, we need help on this…”

The person whom you tap to help is either

  • right for the job

  • underqualified

  • overqualified

  • qualified but strategic for something else

Things that color and cloud judgment include

  • attitude (they don’t want to do it)

  • desire (“I really want to learn how to do this”)

  • supervision (they might be able to do it, but only with a coach nearby)

These combinations of need, shortage of resources, desire to learn, motivation (or lack thereof) are lethal. Bottom line: don’t utilize someone solely because they are available. They need to be appropriate for the job.

“I’m glad that you’re available, I know you’re eager. I need the appropriate person to do this particular task. I would like you to ride along and watch this one so you can be more prepared for future opportunities.”

That’s hard to say, especially when someone’s eager to add to their tool belt. Saying it is rough. Not saying it is worse. Equip your team to be successful when you assign them a project. Desire and availability do not add up to equal “able” and “appropriate”.

Use extreme examples to help distinguish between available and appropriate. Throw in desire or interest to complicate it but stay focused on the risk that you’re trying to contain.

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