Feeding the Dog
Unless orders are assigned to a specific person within the group, they’re rarely followed.
The major fundraiser is tonight at 6 p.m., and three team members are going through final preparations.
The event space looks great, the live band is set, and the video presentation is ready to go.
“What time will the caterers get here?” Susan asks John.
“Ron, are they coming at 3?” John asks.
“The caterers? I thought you guys were handling the food arrangements,” Ron tells Susan and John.
And so the biggest event of the year for the company has no catering plan in place.
The miscommunication is a classic example of what U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Vines says happens when team roles aren’t clearly and specifically defined.
“If there are three people responsible for feeding the dog, the dog is going to starve,” Vines likes to say.
As leaders, we’re guilty of inadvertently starving the dog far too often.
A head coach tells his three assistants to bring the clipboard to the game. None does.
A supervisor tells members of the tech department they need to set up the new employee’s email and laptop. It isn’t handled.
A doctor tells a group of nurses to administer a shot to a patient. The patient is still waiting 15 minutes later.
While the instructions seem basic enough, unless these orders are assigned to a specific person within the group, they’re rarely followed as team members simply assume someone else will complete the task.
So Vines created a rule for himself to address these innocent, but potentially fatal, communication voids.
“Tell me whose throat I should choke if this doesn’t go well,” he says in slight jest. “Who is responsible?”
U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal shared how Vines’ views on task delegation have impacted him in a recent episode of “The Learning Leader” podcast with Ryan Hawk.
“It’s not just a case of making them the potential scapegoat if it doesn’t go well or the person to blame,” McChrystal said.
“It’s saying, ‘Who needs the support of other people because they are responsible for the outcome?’ If somebody is given a task, they ought to be able to look to the left and right and find other people whose support they need.”
This assistance element is critical.
Accountability isn’t merely about being able to yell at or fire someone if the plan goes awry. It’s about providing a person or group with an abundantly clear mission in advance so they’re able to seek reliable help should they need it.
Being strategic requires being specific.
And being specific means going into painstaking detail about the what, when, where and the often-overlooked “who” of a plan.
The event has the potential to elevate the company to new heights.
Let’s make sure we know who’s handling the food.