Laurence Haughton’s well-organized It’s Not What You Say…It’s What You Do communicates a series of tactics of how to actually get.things.done at an organizational level. Four broad building blocks are given which, in concert, Haughton contends will result in what he calls “follow-through.” These are:
- Clear direction
- The right people
- Individual initiative
Ultimately, this is a book about personal accountability. What is accountability? Stating, unambiguously, what you or your business is committing to do (in truthful, measurable terms), and meeting those commitments. It sounds simple. When done right, it IS simple. But if that’s the case, why are so many businesses so screwed up, and why are so many customers ready to defect? Haughton contends it’s because organizations don’t follow through, and gives his thoughts on how to get an organization to meet its commitments by way of the the four building blocks outlined above.
On the “clear direction” front, Haughton contends that many managers are faced with a double-whammy. The executives to which they are reporting have not given them clear direction. This can be because (p. 13, PP):
- The executive is overwhelmed
- The executive is himself or herself trying to avoid accountability, because his or her boss was not clear with them
As a result, businesspeople end up in an ever-increasing game of CYA, and by the time a thought gets to the customer it is so ambiguous and caveated-to-death that the customer no longer knows what to actually expect.
After the direction is set, however, the organization actually needs to make things happen, which requires both people and systems. The key point in this section is the identification of the individuals who will be committed to the follow-through. This is a non-trivial task…it sometimes seems there are a lot more talkers than do-ers on the planet. How to tell which is which?
“Ask about what they did, not what they think.” (p. 69, OCI)
(By the by, about fifteen years ago, there was a discipline entitled “Critical Behavior Interviewing” that emphasized this very same point.) Why is this distinction so important? Because following this line of conversation may be one of the best screens available for finding people who actually get things done, as opposed to just talking a good game.
With enough practice, and enough polish, and enough pizazz, nearly anyone can spin a yarn in an interview-type situation to paint the picture he or she desires. But instead of asking about “what do you think you would do in this situation,” Haughton suggests focusing the conversation on what the person actually did in a similar situation in the past. What was the situation? What did you do? How did you feel about it? What was a situation that arose during the execution that you didn’t expect? What did you do when you found out you didn’t have as much time, resource, or budget as you expected?
Questioning along this line focuses on the reality, not the yarn.
The third section of the book, while peppered with a handful of good thoughts on how to motivate the individuals on the front line who actually make things happen, unfortunately succumbed to that unfortunate bane of business, acronymus rampantosis. Examples:
“The single, most powerful piece of advice for overcoming the law of inertia and thereby improving your organization’s follow through can be summed up in four words ‘outmaneuver the CAVE people.’” (p. 107, YAA)
“HOT teams are where work is fun and, when the day ends, you can’t wait for tomorrow. HOT teams are where everyone gets a lot done in less time…hard work doesn’t feel nearly as draining on a HOT team as it does elsewhere…If there’s a rift, a HOT team discusses it as adults…HOT teams have a way of getting everyone in even the most diverse groups to their their level best to follow through.” (p. 139, YAA)
“He laid out a strategy that was specific, measurable, accountable, realistic and time-bound (SMART).” (p. 109, YAA)
In other words, after building up such a good head of steam, this section of the book, unfortunately, resulted in a few moments of gratuitous eye-rolling. Enough with the buzzwords already!
Redemption came in the final section, however, which is all about looking at things through the eyes of the customer (go Laurence!) and emphasizing and re-emphasizing the need for shared purpose and mutual respect between executives, managers, line employees and the customers they are committing to serve. Haughton finishes strong, with a conclusion that is a must-read; it’s a strong distillation of the book’s key concepts intertwined with a number of vignettes that illustrate his points with real-world examples.
The very last paragraph of the book is telling:
“Commitment means never asking the other side ‘to understand.’ All managers must be willing to expose themselves and say ‘The robustness and stamina of the follow-through is my responsibility. All our promises have my name on them.”
True to its message, the book is exceedlingly well organized and, if one desired, one easily would be able to recreate the outline that was likely used to structure the writing. Another interesting aspect was the breadth and number of interviews with managers, the individuals who actually need to do things, that were interspersed throughout the book. Haughton did not spend time focusing on the smoke-blowing “big thinkers” who talk about their most recent trip to the ethereal plane without regard for the actual implementation, instead choosing to share the words from individuals who are actually getting things done.
While not earth-shattering, ultimately this is a sound, pragmatic book, and a helpful reminder of the things we should all be doing.
Book Review #1: All Marketers Are Liars
PP: Pure Pragmatism
OCI: Of Crtical Import
YAA: Yet Another Acronym