Sep 242010

The Theory of “Completed Staff Work”

Completed staff work is the study of a problem and indicates the presentation of a solution, with alternatives, to the manager, so that all that remains to be done on the part of the manager is to indicate approval or disapproval of the completed action. The words "completed action" are emphasized because the more difficult the problem is, the more the tendency is to present the problem and recommended action to the manager in piecemeal fashion. It is your duty as a staff member to work out details.

You should not consult the manager in the determination of those details, no matter how perplexing they may be. You may and should consult other staff members. The product, whether it involves the pronouncement of a new policy or affects an established one, should, when presented to the manager, represent the best thinking of you and other staff members.

The impulse which often comes to the inexperienced individual to ask the manager what to do, recurs more often when the problem is difficult. It is accompanied by a feeling of mental frustration. It is so easy to ask the manager what to do, and it appears so easy for the manager to answer. Resist the impulse. You will succumb to it only if you do not know your job. It is your job to advise your manager what he or she ought to do, not to ask what you ought to do. Your job is to study, write, and rewrite until you have evolved a single proposed action — the best of all the alternatives you have considered. Your manager merely approves or disapproves.

Do not burden your manager with long explanations and memoranda. Writing a memorandum to your manager does not constitute completed staff work, but writing a memorandum for your manager to send to someone else does. Your views should be placed before the manager in finished form so the manager can use them to achieve results. They should be a single document prepared for the manager’s signature, without accompanying comment. If the proper result is reached, the manager will usually recognize it at once. If the manager wants comment or explanation, he or she will ask for it.

The theory of the completed staff study does not preclude a "rough draft", but the rough draft must not be a half-completed idea. It must be complete in every respect, except that it lacks the requisite number of copies and need not be neat. But a rough draft must not be used as an excuse for shifting to the manager the burden of formulating the action.

The completed staff work theory may result in more work for you, but it results in more freedom for the manager. This is as it should be. Furthermore, it accomplishes the following:

  • The manager is protected from half-baked ideas, voluminous memoranda, and immature verbal presentments.
  • When you have a real idea to sell, you will find a ready market.
  • You are insured recognition as having been the originator of the idea or a proposed action.
  • Because your ideas and/or proposals have been thoroughly prepared and professionally presented, the esteem in which you are held by your manager and your peers will be increased.
  • Because of effective preparation, the idea or proposal is more certain to work because its disadvantages as well as its advantages will have been considered, and appropriate action taken to avoid potential problems.

When you have completed your staff work, the final test is this:

  1. Are you willing to stake your professional reputation on the quality of this presentation?
  2. If you were the manager, would you be willing to sign this prepared paper and stake your professional reputation on its being right?

[I welcome information that would help me to properly attribute the material on this page. I acquired it from a handout distributed to his staff by the Manager of Engineering at the Amoco Refinery in Texas City (some years before Amoco “merged” with BP.]