The Challenge with Organisational Values

For those who haven’t heard of him, retired cop Alfie Moore has a comedy programme on Radio 4 entitled ‘It’s a Fair Cop’, where he addresses policing issues from a cop’s perspective, and with a sense of humour familiar to old hats like me. A week or so ago he covered the concept of the Student Officer, and I laughed for half an hour. But one thing he said, made me think.

He was speaking of his probationer’s thoughts on some issue, and he mentioned that it is ‘expected that your values will align with those of the organisation.’ Hmmm.

First of all, why wouldn’t they? Why would anyone work that hard to join an organisation that didn’t align with their values, or at least one with which they expected their personal values would be congruent. Malice aside, no-one joins an organisation that they would consider opposes their personal views and beliefs unless they wish to destroy it from within.

So they join in the belief that the organisation’s values align with their own, and the organisation expects that any small gaps will be closed, over time. This seems fair.

Except….

(Dinosaur warning.)

When I joined in 1986 we were a law enforcement agency. Laws were enforced and, first-time offending kids aside, there was no such thing as a caution for an offence committed. And even then, you only got one before you saw the inside of a Court. The smallest amount of drugs in your pocket resulted in a possession charge. The only discretion was, pretty much, at the first point of contact – if the cop didn’t ticket or nick you, that was the end of it.

By the 2000s, kids were getting caution after caution after caution. Thieves weren’t charged, they were ticketed – assuming the cop even went to the shop to deal with the shoplifter. Drugs were forgiven and pre-court diversion methods abounded. And then, the law enforcers started helping the druggies by giving them clean needles, thus implicitly aiding and abetting their possession. Yes, I know there are legal arguments against, but the point stands. Which is….

The organisation’s values had changed. But mine hadn’t.

And what is more, the organisation was being directed in this direction by politicos. (I shan’t explore the university education of the senior officer class and the possibility of their indoctrination by academia, which is notoriously left-wing. That’s a long debate.)

And what’s more, the old values with which many a copper had (a) already possessed and (b) were aligned with the law enforcement ethos of their organisation, were now being punished if they acted in accordance with the values that the organisation had, until then, been perfectly happy with.

That’s not to defend the poorer behaviours of some, such as overt racism, bullying and sexism. Although I didn’t see a lot of that, there was some as defined now. But what I saw was contradictory – you’d be sexist one minute, then risk your own welfare in defence of the person you’d just slagged off. ‘Twas ever thus.

When you impose changed values, you meet resistance because you changed the rules by which those upon whom the new rules had previously worked, quite happily.

So don’t blame them for resisting change. Question whether the change was worth alienating your best staff. And whether the reason you did it was self-serving or politically directed.

For a deeper discussion on personal and policing values, got to Chapters 17 and 18 of my book, Police Time Management.

Overcoming Distraction

A question oft asked of people is “Do you find it hard to focus on what you need to get done?” A better question, which arguably leads straight to a workable solution, is “How easily do you get distracted?”

This morning I was in m’shed, exercising on my rather well-used, former clothes-hanging spin bike. Not one of those silly and over-priced but gadget-rich Peloton thingies. Just your basic £125, Chinese model with a read-out that shed damp has left barely legible, but useable in a pinch. The other advantage of this equipment is that rather than watching other, fitter people outride me, I can use an old Samsung tablet (other tablets are available) to watch YouTube videos. I watch personal development stuff and debates, but on Sunday and Monday mornings (if I’m not on my real bike) I watch Match of the Day. Which sounds bad but it means I do well over an hour on those mornings.

(Get to the point.)

Today’s video addressed the aforementioned question, and as I rode I realised the presenter was right because while I was focused on him, I suddenly noticed that a shed slat had been dislodged and risked admitting water if it rained. So having seen that problem I became concerned that, pedalling furiously as I was, I had nowhere to write down that I needed to address it, which made me think I should download a To Do app to the tablet, which I subsequently found I couldn’t do because the tablet was so old, so I had to go on-line and create an Internet bookmark so that I could note such things down as they came to mind. (And breathe.)

Then I found myself wondering what the presenter had said while I was thinking all that.

He was right. You could be thinking you are really ‘in the moment’ and suddenly something comes to mind which distracts you and fuzzes your focus on what you should be doing. And now you’re thinking about two things, which easily leads to three or more, and this is when you think you can’t cope. *

There is an answer, and it is implied in that long paragraph.

It is to pause, make a note of what distracted you and needs future attention, and then return to the task at hand.

Yes, it IS that simple. Me, I use the aforementioned To Do app (Microsoft’s, to be precise – other To Do apps blah blah blah). Something enters my mind that I can’t do anything about in two minutes or less, I put it on an appropriate list on my mobile phone or tablet (as they cross-pollinate), and check back in when I don’t need to be as focused.

This is the basis of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s so mind-bogglingly simple, yet few people think of doing that.

In my case, my To Do Lists include At Computer (things to do when I need a computer); Book Stories that pop into my head (to go into my policing autobiography); Errands (for shopping and other out of home tasks); and Waiting For (a list of things I am, er, waiting for). If I am doing Thing One and Thing Two pops up, Thing Two immediately gets put onto the appropriate list and I resume Thing One. (Not Allen – Seuss.)

If you apply this method, as described in a lot more detail in my book Police Time Management, you can keep your mind clear and focused on the Now, secure in the knowledge that any interrupting thought has had enough of your valuable attention and will get acted upon when you can do something meaningful about it, and not before.

You can’t avoid distractions if you have an active brain. But you can redirect that distraction if you adopt a method that puts it back under your control.

Read my book or Allen’s. They’re both good, but mine is cheaper.

(*Reminds me of my first CID days, when we were dealing on the street with an alleged abduction. A local youth kept interfering and distracting us. Eventually I decided it was quicker to arrest him than try and convince him to go hence. More paperwork, but once he was in the van we could focus on the kidnap.)

Be Your Best. Always.

“Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.” George Halas.

Okay, you’ve never heard of him in the UK. He was an American football and basketball player and coach, and like many such professionals acknowledged the truth of the saying that people who do their best usually get the results they seek. Although it may be fair to say that the people he was working with and coaching were pretty much ‘up there’ in terms of talent, ability and skill when he described them.

But the fact that they are at the top of their game and are paid good money to be their best, should not absolve or excuse you, underpaid as you are, from doing your best whenever you are called upon to do your job.

No, I wasn’t perfect.

Like you, I had days when I was tired. Periods when I was distracted by events outside of work, and days when in-work issues affected my performance. And a time when I made a huge mistake which cost me dearly.

But, in the main, I tried my best to do the best I could with what I had available to me at the time, including knowledge, ‘things’ supportive and colleagues. Sometimes colleagues didn’t support me – maybe they had their own things going on, too. Who actually ever asks?

Right now, the press has got it in for the police. I have my own observations about what’s going on, and question whether the compassionate, PR-focused approach has gone from being a sensible means of engaging the public to one that utterly undermines our ability to enforce laws and detect crime, and is beset by pandering more towards extra-loud, minority interests. (Without fear or favour…..)

But on a day-to-day basis, and in any one-to-one interaction, I still firmly believe that (without interference) the vast majority of you go to work every day intending to do your best.

And I salute you for it.

Which is why I wrote this book. I hope to help you be the best you can be by counselling you on methodologies designed to enable you to be your best in the moment, by managing those moments with the appropriate level of attention and priority.

If you can manage yourself in such a controlled fashion as to be able to give your best at any one point in time, can’t you do anything other than be your best in the moment?

Think about that.

Two Kinds of Bottleneck. Them…..and You.

You know those days when you need something done and it isn’t happening as quickly as you would like? You need a reply to an e-mail quickly (try the phone, but hey-ho) but you haven’t received it? You’re on hold with someone or some company and you really need to be elsewhere? You need a piece of kit but the quartermaster is out of the office? That kind of thing.

The generic term for someone or something that is getting in the way of your productivity is Bottleneck. The stasis created by the other person involved in the transaction is preventing you from moving forward. Naturally, this disappoints or frustrates you – they mean different things – and you’re inclined to tell the world that X is preventing you progressing on something. They are your reason for the delay.

And do you know what?

I’m willing to be a week’s wages that somewhere, somebody is saying exactly the same thing about you. Somebody is likely explaining to a third party that they have sent you a memo/e-mail/letter and they can’t move until you reply, and therefore YOU are the bottleneck. And experience tells me that the bottleneck is sitting in your work tray begging to be answered but, in the moment, the five minutes it will likely take feel like the longest interruption to your day that you have ever received.

I’m guilty. Or at least I used to be. I’d look at an overly-long and pernickety demand from a retired-detective file-vetter, and put off working on it for as long as I could.*

That was until I discovered that – brace yourself for some serious wisdom here – I didn’t have to do everything on the memo at once. Instead of treating the memo as ‘A BIG THING’ I treated it as a ‘LIST OF SMALL THINGS’, none of which was as onerous as ‘THE BIG THING’ appeared to be. And in no time at all the little things were addressed in two-minute bursts, the memo was returned and a bottleneck was opened again.

Some things will take time, I realise that. But it’s our procrastination that annoys others as much as they procrastination of others, annoys us.

Try and remember that how you feel is how others feel if the situations were reversed, and act with respect for that reality when considering how much less of a bottleneck you can be. If you’re not freeing up your own bottleneck, you can surely be freeing someone else’s, and that freedom might just serve you later on.

The bottleneck you free me from, allows me to serve you, faster.

None of us lives and works in the vacuum we think we do. We all have bugs on our backs, biting us. Even the bugs have bugs.

Don’t be a Bottleneck while moaning about how long other people are taking to do what you need done. It’s hypocrisy, is that.

*Oddly, when I went from PC to DC, the pernickety requests lessened. And the requests were expressed in more polite terms. And on one occasion, said file-vetter wrote out all my charges for me. How elitist.

Expect the Unexpected – And Deal With It Easily.

A great man once said (and I paraphrase) “Take my word for it. In the next three months, something unexpected is going to happen, and you are going to have to deal with. How well you deal with it will be a reflection of how prepared you are in terms of how you’re dealing with what you have on your plate now.”

He wasn’t predicting the future like some soothsayer. Furthermore, his intent was to tell everybody that anything could happen. He’d certainly be right more often than he is wrong. An event, hopefully not calamitous but which would require some positive action on your part, is en route to spoil your day.

What he wasn’t doing was addressing one reality of front-line policing life.

Something unexpected is, pretty much, the bread and butter of your day job. Never mind what might be “comin’ atcha” in your personal lives, you open every day with the likelihood that ‘an event’ is coming along to change your plans.

How do you deal with those challenges?

Think about it: when you started work as a police officer or staff member, everything was a challenge. When you began you learned to deal with things, initially by thinking hard about what to do and in what order. But as time passed and experience taught, you by-passed the ‘thinking’ and did everything that you had to do in the most effective and efficient way, in the right order, to get the outcome you expected.

Which is why I find it odd, occasionally, when people who have arrived at that level of competence in their working lives don’t notice that the same learning curve applies to their private lives, and therefore fail to spend their time planning their activities to the same degree they do their work. They don’t use the time and experience of just ‘being’ as a means to inform themselves how to prepare so that emergencies have a lesser impact on normality than they do on the unprepared mind.

I plan my week, every week. By accident as much as by design, my tasks are usually completed by lunchtime (yes, I AM lucky), which means my afternoons tend to be free to cope with the unexpected, the added-on, the challenging. But I am not so bound by my plans that I can’t work around or even drop them when something comes up that deserves more attention than ‘the plan’.

But here’s the thing: A To-Do List is not a Plan, as valuable as it is when compared to having no list at all. The best that you can hope for from a To-Do List is the knowledge that, having put everything on it, you won’t forget it needs doing. Of course, it will always need doing as long as it remains on the list. It hasn’t been planned.

You have to put the tasks on your list into a ‘proper’ plan, OR have a system for just deciding when, in the moment, you can do something off that list because you have a moment to spare in which to do it.

And for many things on such a list, you also need to know HOW to do it in the most efficient way possible, so that it doesn’t take longer than planned. That’s where a weekly plan can be of benefit. If you decide that, next Thursday, you are attending a training course, then you can add any pre-course necessities to Tuesday’s calendar and that day’s task list. Not only to an A4 sheet containing a random To-Do List – you’ll see that on Thursday morning just in time to say “Oops.”

 And ALL of that advice supports my contention that you can cope with the unexpected because if you learn and apply what I teach then you’ve already chosen when and where and how you are going to deal with the expectations that already exist on your Plan. No more thought is required for those things, which means your mind is now empty.  Which in turn means you can now use the spare mind-space for dealing with the unexpected, and do so with as much focus as is needed.

You can learn to cope with any personal emergency just like you did any work ‘emergency’: List what needs to be done, plan when and how to do it, and get it out of the way as soon as you can.

Choose your Communication Method More Carefully – and Don’t be a Mobile Phone

You know how it is when you start seeing the same thing popping up again and again? It sticks in the mind unless addressed. Like the word ‘brouhaha’, which I’d never heard and then heard three times in a week. Suddenly, it was part of my own lexicon.

This week, he ‘thing’ that has repeatedly assaulted my mind has been the concept of synchronous and asynchronous communication. “What’s that?” I hear you not ask.

Synchronous communication requires that both parties to said communication be present and active at the same time, while asynchronous means that presence and immediacy are not required. Head gone, yet?

Talking is synchronous – radio and telephone comms are the most obvious examples, and on-line helplines are supposed to be examples,. As well, unless you’ve been stuck in one.

Examples of asynchronous communications should be letters, e-mail, texts and other social media messaging methods such as Messenger and WhatsApp. I say should be, because…..

Are you one of those people who sends an e-mail and wonders why the person hasn’t answered it within an hour? Do you send a text expecting an immediate reply? Are you like my children, who actually try to conduct conversations by asynchronous methods?

Then you’re a (deleted).

The purpose of this blog is to remind you of what you knew before the advent of digital communications, and that is that because when urgency is a concern the quickest way to get something done is to speak to the person you want to do it, then synchronous communication is the best way, supported by text/email/letter as a written confirmation of what was agreed.

When urgency is NOT a factor, then sending e-comms is perfectly acceptable. However, expecting, nay demanding that the other party attach urgency to that which you did not consider urgent (or failed to properly apply real urgency by using e-comms) is bloody rude. It’s also ineffective, because the relationship you damage by ‘expecting’ other people to drop everything at your whim will need repairing.

Now, it may be that you’re not the problem, and that those who communicate with you are. In which case, maybe it’s time to start a synchronous communication with them so that they stop expecting your immediate, unquestioned obedience to their diktats.

I am convinced that the mobile generation has resulted in a phenomenon I only used to see with infant children. I was once in a supermarket. At one end of the aisle, a supervisor was chatting to a team member. At the other end of the aisle was another team member – who started shouting the name of one of the other parties, evidently seeking attention despite the fact that the others were already engaged in their own chat. I se it time and time again – people just butt in, never patiently waiting for a suitable pause into which they can insert their desire for assistance with their own issue.

We have begun to expect that, like a mobile phone, people will drop their other conversation and put people – who are present – on hold for us!

I delve deeper into this phenomenon in my book Police Time Management, but for now I’d ask you to consider – what is the appropriate means of communication I should use for ‘this’ situation, and act accordingly. And try not to interrupt people when they are engaged with others – hopefully you will earn their undivided attention by their seeing you not dividing theirs.

The Key to Success in EVERYTHING. Including the washing up.

This week I have been mostly taken by a concept that the ‘better’ coaching writers espouse as a specific, rather than ‘work it out for yourself’ idea. The oldest writing I find about this is from the 1930s in the name of Napoleon Hill. It was later reframed in 1989 by Stephen Covey, and Jack Canfield provides the same overarching advice in his 2005 book “The Success Principles”. It is an idea that underpins any level of success in business and personal relationships, and without it everything else fails.

Napoleon Hill, paraphrased it thus: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Covey calls it ‘Be Proactive’ and Canfield calls it ‘Take 100% Responsibility.’ All have the same meaning.

They mean that in order for things to happen, it’s all down to you. You either do it, or you cause it to come about.

I have taught this in personal development classes and often met resistance. It was understandable: in reality, other people and circumstances do have an influence on what we do. In truth, our success relies on us making ourselves relevant, and it relies on us dealing with those external influences. Which is where the resistance loses the argument.

Whatever happens, we have a choice. That choice is to deal with the circumstance, fight it, or accept it. As Covey described it, we have Direct, Indirect, or No Control over what happens to us. Direct Control means we can deal with it ourselves, and overcome the challenge. Indirect Control means either we deal with it in concert with other people, or we nudge it in the direction we wish to go, adapting as we do so. No Control means we smilingly accept it, rather than waste time and emotion fighting the insurmountable.

But we aren’t only talking about severe challenge. We are also talking about little things, small annoyances. I can’t tell you how much emotional effort I find myself putting into the avoidance of a two-minute annoyance! This morning I have hoovered, dusted, stocked, emptied and sorted multiple little things that really have always been someone else’s responsibility. But today, I chose responsibility and it’s all been done.

Have I gone from serious stuff to trivialities? Maybe.

But how about you? What things are you avoiding because they are annoying, in the knowledge that the person responsible is you – but you really don’t want to do them? And is ‘not doing them’ creating the result you want to achieve?

Here’s an example. I am an introvert. I’m reluctant to mix. I have found that most people are: when a group of strangers assemble, there is abundant awkwardness until – I start the conversation and introductions. Me. Shy bloke. Until I, or someone like me, starts the mixing off, it’s awfully quiet. I take 100% (etc.) for communication.

What does this have to do with policing? Everything.

Think of other things: Paperwork. Cleaning. Maintenance. Shopping. ‘That’ conversation’. All yuk jobs, but all necessary for a smoother existence. All or some of which are things which you think you have delegated, but which the delegate ain’t doing.

Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the moral victory when you make it plain that you’ve briefly, and pointedly, taken responsibility for someone else’s work. Rub it in their faces. Let it be known far and wide.

Sometimes, the mantra ‘I will take 100% Responsibility’ means doing the ‘thing’ so that you can move on from it, and move closer to your desired outcome. Even if that ‘thing’ just means clearing the dishes from the work surfaces you won’t need for three hours – but will now be clean and ready when you get there.

Take charge of as much as possible. Even if you don’t want to do it – do it.

And that really does apply to your policing role, even if you didn’t think so as you read this.

French Lessons about Stress

At the moment, the Channel Tunnel access is chock-a-block with cars and lorries waiting to travel across to la Belle France, obstructed by the inability of les Francais to provide sufficient staff to man -sorry, resource – their side of the border control posts. As a consequence, X numbers of cars and lorries are having to try and get through X/2 passport checking facilities. Trying to get the normal amount of holiday traffic through half the usual number of access points is creating a blockage. There are only two possible solutions – open the closed posts with more people, or stop doing the checks. Neither of which is feasible in the circumstances.

This is a perfect example of one of the eternal truths – clogged systems create stress.

Recognise the parallel, yet? Yes, it is policing in a nutshell. Notwithstanding the reduction in the number of officers available to work at any given time, the fact is that unlike border crossings that fluctuate with holiday periods, the amount of work police officer – you – are expected to do never fluctuates, and has no controlling pinch-point to manage the flow of incoming ‘stuff’. It is coming whether you like it or not. While some events can be pre-planned, the vast majority of police work (crime, public disorder, traffic incidents and domestic violence) exists wholly outside of your control, and is not normally subject to weather/holidays/seasonal environments or sporting calendars. (There are some exceptions.)

So as bad as the border situation is, when the French get well, the situation will repair itself. But policing incidents ‘as arising’ won’t. Which, in turn, means that if your system for managing your work is clogged, there is no immediate expectation that it will unclog itself.

You need your own system for dealing with the waterfall of work, OR you need the organisation to create a system for you. And guess what? Despite the many reports from over twenty years ago that promote the training of such a dark art as time and task management, I know of no police organisation that trains people in time management (although I understand Devon and Cornwall have adopted a training course that included it, a bit).

Of course it’s a pitch for my book but you are not obliged to buy it.

What I am promoting is the idea that absent the training I think you should be given, you are not prevented from getting such training input yourself. There are books and courses out there (more expensive than mine, he smugly wrote) that will teach you great procedures for managing incoming and ongoing work better than you are managing all of that, now.

Such input can help you prevent the unnecessary clogging, manage the inevitable clogging, and free up some of the stuff that’s creating the clogging, all of which will (I guarantee) reduce the amount of stress that clogging creates.

I’m not sure I can guarantee that the stress will go away – you picked the wrong job for that. But, for example; the stress created by looking at your To Do List and wondering if it will ever go away can be lessened if you realise that having that list creates an element of control. Too many people look at the list and think they have no control, but they’re wrong – having a disorganised list is stressful, but having a considered list, and a process for managing it, is not.

You just need to know why that is so, and proper training can help you with that.

Stamping on a hose blocks it. Squeezing the end of a hose creates a massive jet. So yes, a clogged system creates stress, but knowing how to control that clogging, like any pressurised system, can result in a powerful force coming out of the other end – if you know how to create that.

Get some input.

This is one way.

Go HERE for this.

How the French can teach you about stressed systems.

Stressful Attention Interruption and the Cure

I have written in the past that stress is often the result of feeling that you are out of control, and that the key to reduction of stress is to take back control, but there is a caveat. It is a ‘yes but’ that applies more to policing than it does to many other workplaces short of the battlefield, although I’m not so pompous to believe there aren’t workplaces that have similar levels of whirlwind activity.

The caveat is expressed well by Stephen Covey, who wrote about the ‘promise’ of many time management writers. He suggested that

Basing our happiness on our ability to control everything is futile.

He wrote this about time management in general, but it is so much more accurate when applied to our job, simply because we can’t even control 20% of what we do. The moment we get a handle on something is the moment something else happens – you’re dealing with a RTC and the fight starts, or taking a statement when the fight starts, or minding your own business when – you know. All of that notwithstanding those times what we are doing changes in nature – for example when the statement you are taking takes a turn you weren’t expecting. Or when a suspect suddenly confesses after you’ve spent an hour planning your detailed approach to their interview. Uncommon, I know, but when it happened to me in my younger service, I was so taken aback that I suddenly forgot how to ask questions!

Which means that when you are able to do something that is completely within your sphere of influence you should recognise that, and enjoy it to the full.

And it also means that you can reduce your personal stress levels by acknowledging and accepting that your job is one where interruptions are what you do.

Acceptance is the mindset, but the skillset for dealing with sudden and stressful change is to have a system for managing your attention so that the interruption itself is brought under control.

The simplest way to do that (when possible) is to note the interruption, clarify what it means, and then give it no more than the appropriate level of attention. If it is a fight, that means deal with it now and give it all of your attention. If it is a request for action to be taken later, make a note to attend to it later, even if ‘later’ means taking time to plan that action.

There is a tendency – me too – to allocate too much attention to an interruption. For example, you’re ‘in’ something you planned to do, and the phone rings. You answer it (even though you have an answerphone facility to do it for you), and now your attention is off Job 1, and into whatever the call means. And even when the call is finished you will tend to have some, if not all of your attention ‘there’ instead of where you were before.

The best advice I can give, after telling you not to answer the phone in the first place (responsibilities allowing) is to note the call, put it onto a list for attention later, and then leave it on that list while your attention returns to Job 1. That may sound as though it won’t actually work, but if the note you make is sufficiently comprehensive, you know you can rely on it to remind you of what you need to do in its regard when you need to do it. And your brain is happy in that knowledge and allows you to move on. It’s when you don’t write it down and allow it to wait that your brain keeps nagging at you to give it attention.

Tell me: when your car passes an MOT or has a service, does it drive better even when nothing meaningful was actually done to it? Of course it does, and that is not a physical reality, but a psychological reality. Your brain knows that nothing is likely to go wrong with the car for at least a little while, so doesn’t remind you to take maintenance action. It’s filed the work as ‘done’ and ‘successful’, until you hear the next funny noise. Then, if you don’t know what it is, you get stressed until you identify the cause, the likely effect, and arrange to get it fixed. And again, once fixed – stress free motoring.

Life is the same – if you are stressed, you need to identify the problem, arrange its solution and then get it done.

Simples.

Procrastination is the Thief of Trust

A big cause of procrastination is fear, but I’m not writing here about panic, or being terrified of something. I’m writing about the kind of fear that is not about loss of life, but loss of time. And when you read this, you’ll realise that you know exactly what I mean.

Have you ever met one of those people (or are you one of those people) who, when a decision on what course of action to take is needed, asks for advice? But who also, having heard the advice provided, go on to ask someone else, then someone else, and then someone else again?

They’re scared.

They’re scared that the advice given will require that they take responsibility for a decision. Or they are scared that they don’t know how to what has been suggested. Or they are scared that the time taken to act will somehow impinge upon the time they need, or think they need, to do something else that they’d prefer to do.

All of those fears mean that it is, in their minds, safer to keep on asking, and/or safer to keep on assembling data, so that they can find one of five things:

  • The answer they want, regardless of whether it’s right;
  • The answer that keeps them safe from any perceived negative consequence;
  • An excuse not to do it at all;
  • A reason to not be doing something else that they are trying to avoid; or
  • Someone to blame when they act, and it all goes wrong.

(I’ll be frank – that list started as ‘three things’, expanded to five, and even now I’m thinking there may be others.)

I’ve met and worked with at least two of those, and the funny things is that both were truly competent, knowledgeable people. But for some reason, now and then they’d have a situation that needed action, and off they’d go polling people as if democracy was the answer to whether a proposed act was right or wrong. Well, democracy may work that way, but reality doesn’t. If there is only one answer, someone else’s truth won’t change that, however honestly held.

Now that sentence could start another post, but let’s stick to work.

If you have a list of things that need doing, do them in the order of importance as your first metric, then availability of resources and time as your next assessment method. And if you don’t know what to do, ask someone – ONE someone – who has done it before and use that knowledge and experience to develop your own.

When you ask someone like that for help and then go ask someone else (for one of the five reasons given above), you undermine your relationship with that first, trusted individual whose counsel you sought out. You betray a trust that you, yourself demonstrated when you asked for help.

Only when their answer picks at your own conscience should you think, “Does that sound right?” should you go elsewhere, and even then only after you’ve asked ‘Person One’ if you understood them correctly.

In essence – don’t muck up a great relationship because you’re afraid to do whatever you know has to be done. That’s selfish, and remarkably stupid. Relationships are too important to spoil because you’re a procrastinator.