Tuesday, 17 September 2019

I recently encountered a classic case of the story of “Everybody, Anybody, Somebody and Nobody”.  For those who don’t know it, it goes something like this:

“There were four people called Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.  The boss wanted something done and made a general announcement to them about it. Everybody thought that Somebody would do it.  Frankly, Anybody could have done it, but in the end Nobody did it.  The boss was angry – after all, he had told Everybody. 

Anybody could have done it.  Everybody thought Somebody (just not them) would do it but didn’t appreciate that Nobody would probably do it.  Equally, Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it… In the end, Everybody blamed Somebody when Anybody could have done it.” The moral is that, if the message or its delivery are confusing, nothing gets done.  Simply going out and making a “general announcement” won’t work.  Whom do we blame when things don’t get done? Every(body) has the perfectly legitimate excuse that they thought somebody else would do it and it wasn’t made clear that they themselveswere actually responsible. I have two standard questions when someone says that something “must” or “needs to” or “should” be done:
  1. In the case of it being my manager, I ask whom they want to make responsible which then clears the way forward (even if it’s me);
  1. In the case of someone in a group (or one of my reports) making the announcement whether they will take the lead on it.   If they don’t reply, it’s a case of them thinking that somebody else will do it…
We tend to get caught up the heat of the moment as managers and go into “destructive delegation” mode.  When delegating, we need to explain:
  • What needs to be done
  • Why
  • Who is expected to do it
  • By when
  • With what support
  • Within which limits of authority
It also helps to follow up from time to time over the duration of the project to make sure all is proceeding on course and that no nasty surprises are lurking. Our team will appreciate it, things will be clear and will get done.  Everyone will be happier.


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services. For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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