Monday, June 07, 2010


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Dear Colleagues:

Throughout our lives, people are telling us not to assume. It is thought that assumption leads to poor preparation, rushing to judgment, unrealistic expectations, and other terrible things. I have discovered two exceptional situations where it is always helpful to assume -- in fact, if you don't make these assumptions, it is more than likely that you will not be successful as a manager. ASSUMPTIVE MANAGEMENT has only two general rules, and they are outline in the friendly bit of correspondence which follows. Enjoy it.

Dear Anonymous Person In A Non- Military Managerial Position:

You should consider making certain that each person who reports to you is reminded at least weekly (a day or two in advance) as to what his or her recurring obligations are, and that you expect them to be fulfilled properly and promptly. This applies to every single person in your charge even if he or she has been performing these obligations faithfully for a very long time, i.e., since the paleolithic era.

ASSUMPTION A:  You see, people get "busy," "distracted," or "confused" more frequently than you'd every suspect and they just simply forget. -- this even happens at nuclear power facilities, or at offshore oil drilling stations. And even worse than forgetting, sometimes these individuals just don't really care because they are either 1) unmotivated or 2) don't see the significance of what they are being relied upon to do. 

ASSUMPTION B:  When instructing others, assume zero comprehension and zero retention. This will ensure that you become a better communicator and a more frequent one, at that. When people in a subordinate role to you do not understand what you are talking about, they will seldom say "would you please be more specific?" or "If I may paraphrase what you are asking, you'd like me to......" What they do instead is any one or more of the following:
  • remain silent until dismissed
  • Give an affirmative nod of the head and go "umm - hmm."
  • leave the meeting and ask each other what you might have talking about, in a classic example of the blind leading the blind.
You must be specific in every aspect of your instructions. State them clearly. Outline them in a concise bulletin. Ask each member of your audience (one on one), or at very least several members to explain to you precisely what they are going to do based upon what you've said. You needn't even be as obvious as to ask "Now what did I say for you to do?" It's easier to use a bit of social lubricant and ask something like this (with a furrowed brow): "Do you think that you can handle it? What do you think that your first steps are going to be? Gosh, I'm curious..." It might help to visualize (in your mind's eye) a sportscaster catching a quick interview with a famous, albeit somewhat non-academic football or basketball star.

To truly put this technique to the test, within a day or two, ask the same questions and add, "so what moves have you made so far?" You may get a response indicative of comprehension and progress, some jibberish that sounds like a schizophrenic utterance, or a blank stare. Statistically, my guess is that you get the second or third response much more frequently than the first.

On a positive note, if you repeatly perform this special ritual (you can even carry a toy microphone with you!), with a number of the people who are working for you, you notice that the first type of response will occur with increasing frequency.

An employee once asked me, "When are you going to stop hounding me about this?" I responded very honestly, but not unkindly: "I don't mean to hound you at all! I apologize if you thought that! I'm merely going to continue asking you until you can explain what you are doing, and how much progress you've made. Let's talk again later, okay?"

Do you hear me, aspiring Commanders, Team Leaders and Managers?


Douglas Castle
Join my TNNWC Group, LLC collaborative business community (GICBC) at no cost by clicking on

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