Completed Staff Work is a practice that ensures productivity and efficiency. Here’s how you can implement it, both in managing employees and in your business.
One of the most difficult tasks of business owners is managing their employees so they can execute their jobs correctly or in accordance with their expectations. But many times, business owners are frustrated because their employees just don’t get it. Before a job is thoroughly completed, repeated instructions had to be made, back and forth revisions need to be done, and consequently, deadlines are missed.
Financial Investigations at the FBI
In my experience as a business consultant for both local and international companies, I noticed a management practice adopted by a number of organizations abroad—mostly non-profit and government agencies—that seem to address the issue of having to repeatedly instruct employees to go about their tasks.
Back in the day, when I was working abroad in the US, I also observed this practice when I was assigned as a member of an FBI-led public corruption task force. At the time, I was the forensic accounting expert in the FBI task force (translation: the “numbers guy”) since I was a CPA and familiar with financial structures.
Most of my work was focused on reviewing paper trails related to the theft of federal funds, public corruption, and money laundering activities. No “blazing guns” were involved here (so, I was disappointed) because we mostly ran after white-collar criminals in suits. But I did get to participate in exciting FBI raids, where we executed search warrants. The FBI guys I was with literally kicked down doors, especially when the suspects refused to let us enter the location.
Leaving No Stone Unturned
During these FBI raids, I was tasked to secure any equipment that may contain any potential evidence. Those days, the FBI team seized not only documents, but everything—lock, stock, and barrel. And since I was in charge of evidence related to money laundering, anything I pointed at with my fingers that might contain evidence gets tagged and taken by the FBI—like cabinets, vaults, computers, and in one instance, paintings.
It was critical that we get all the possible evidence in one go—the “goods,” so to speak. Once we leave the scene, we can no longer go back—even if we forgot something. That’s because, under the law, we can execute the search warrant only once.
During these FBI briefings—usually conducted hours before a search is carried out—I came to know about one of the best management practices that ensured that no mistakes were made when carrying out instructions. This was employed by our taskforce supervisor to make sure that we leave no stone unturned and that all evidentiary objects, information, and documents are secured during a search.
Completed Staff Work, Explained
Later on, I learned that this practice was called “Completed Staff Works.” I was not really aware of the term at the time but found the practice to be really effective.
The term Completed Staff Work, or CSW, was coined by U.S. Brigadier General E.R. Smith sometime in 1943. Originally, it was a military concept involving “the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution by a staff officer, in such form that all that remains to be done on the part of the commander is to indicate his approval or disapproval of the completed action.”
CSW eventually found its way to the Philippines and was first adapted in 1993 by the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) during the Ramos and Estrada administrations. In fact, President Ramos was known to return documents to his subordinates if their work did not meet his expectations. He even wrote in red ink “CSW needed” on the documents he returned.
Many government agencies followed suit and mandated CSW trainings in their roster of training modules for government employees. I even had the opportunity to conduct CSW trainings for a number of government agencies. In one of my trainings, the Head of the agency, summarized the main proposition of CSW by telling his subordinates—”Pag wala na akong tanong, you have done CSW!”
What are the Advantages?
CSW may result in more work for the staff or employee, but it also results in more freedom for the manager or the head. Furthermore, it accomplishes two things: one, the manager is protected from half-baked ideas and voluminous but irrelevant memos or presentations, and two, the staff is held accountable for his work output. For the latter, the employee is encouraged to give his or her best at all times.
Additionally, CSW flattens the hierarchy and speeds up the decision-making process for managers. It’s an efficient approach that prevents going back and forth endlessly, especially when you’re trying to come up with a solution. Instead of relying on the manager to decide on the best course of action, the team members are bringing their best solutions to their superior.
Overall, performing CSW allow you and your team to work smart. Plus, by getting the job done right the first time around, you can lessen the hassle of revisions or going back and forth.
Practicing CSW in the Workplace
So how do we go about in practicing CSW in our workplace? The critical part of making CSW work is by ensuring that the superior (or manager) and the subordinate (your staff or employee) understand their specific roles in completing the work, task, or project that they intend to accomplish.
The role of the superior is to clearly state the problem, identify the accountable persons, set limits and boundaries, establish deadlines and to provide advice and guidance. In other words, the superior—aka the boss—should tell the subordinates exactly what he or she wants and what they need to do to get approval.
On the other hand, the role of the staff is to fully understand what the superior wants. In doing so, he or she must clarify and identify the issue or problem before doing any work. The staff must research and analyze the issue or problem, identify alternative solutions or options, and develop specific recommendations. In other words, end result is a well-researched recommendation or solution after considering and evaluating all available options.
The 4 Steps of CSW
In practice, CSW generally consists of four simple steps:
- Identify the issue or problem
- Gather information and analyze data to identify the root cause
- Determine and evaluate possible alternatives or options
- Recommend a single cohesive action plan for your manager or superior’s approval
Step 1: Identify the Issue or Problem
In each of the CSW steps, however, you will need to be familiar with a number of basic management principles. For example, in this first step, you can employ the classic 5 Ws Questioning Principle—who, what, when, where, and why—to develop a “directive” to your employee.
Instead of giving a simple instruction to your employee such as “please prepare a sales performance report tomorrow,” you should use the 5 Ws principle to prepare a complete directive that answers the questions you may have.
Thus, your directive should be something like this: “(what?) Please prepare a comparative annual sales performance report for the year ended 2020, with supporting monthly sales analyses per salesman, to be submitted to (who?) the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at (where?) his Makati office by (when?) tomorrow afternoon. (why?) The purpose of the report is to determine if we reach our target, identify the reasons for not reaching it, and to prepare recommendations for improvements.”
Step 2: Gather Information and Analyze Data to Identify the Root Cause
For this step, you need to identify sources of relevant data. You can do this by conducting a brainstorming session or a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) with knowledgeable persons or team members. The objective of an FGD is to analyze, evaluate data, and find out the root cause of the issue or problem.
For example, if the problem is that monthly inventory reports are always delayed and not submitted in a timely manner, you need to find the root cause. Instead of coming up with a typical knee-jerk recommendation such as “the inventory clerk should be required to prepare monthly inventory reports on time and submit it by the first week of each month,” you can explore alternative solutions.
What’s more, this usual recommendation is not readily implementable because it may not address the actual root cause. In fact, the reason could be a number of things such as:
- The inventory clerk does not know how to prepare an inventory report—then the recommendation is to train him
- The inventory clerk is always absent—then he may need to be replaced
- The inventory clerk has a lot of work and does not have enough time to do the report—in which case, the recommendation may be there is a need to hire another clerk
- The inventory clerk’s computer broke down and he was doing his work manually—then the company needs to buy a new computer.
As you can see, finding out the root cause is very important. Otherwise, your recommendation will not directly solve the problem.
Step 3: Determine and Evaluate Possible Alternatives or Options
Once you determine the root cause of the problem or issue, then you need to think of creative and alternative ways to address it. Continuing the example above, if the actual root cause is that the inventory clerk has a lot of work and does not have enough time to do the work, you can evaluate alternative recommendations. These include:
- Hiring another inventory clerk
- Outsourcing the work to a third party labor contractor
- Looking for another employee who has less work and delegate some work to him to unburden the inventory clerk.
Again, by brainstorming with knowledgeable team members will aid you in this step.
Step 4: Recommend a Single Cohesive Action Plan for Your Superior’s Approval
The final step is to propose a single cohesive and well-researched recommendation for final approval. It is important that before doing this, you have evaluated all alternative solutions based on key factors that are relevant or important to your boss or superior.
For example, if your boss is concerned about cost benefit factors—or getting more value for less costs—then your final recommendation probably is to look for another employee who has less work and delegate some work to him because it does not cost the company anything.
The key in having your final recommendation approved by your boss is to prepare a sufficiently detailed report to properly present the data you gathered—from the root cause of the problem to the alternative solutions, the factors you considered, and most importantly, your final recommendation.
In summary, training all your employees to observe and practice CSW in performing their jobs can greatly enhance productivity and efficiency in your workplace. Managers will then be able to focus on their objective of delivering value instead of having to constantly making back and forth instructions to their staff.
Furthermore, haphazard recommendations are avoided, the job is completed on time, and employees are able to deliver great work. In all of this, the most important thing is that the boss spends less time in making decisions and is happy with the results of the work of his staff.
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