25 ways to make yourself unpopular: #8 Do not do things properly

You’re probably familiar with the saying “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly”, and its cousin, “If you want a job doing, do it yourself”. Each has a certain intuitive appeal and each, in a leadership/management situation especially, is utterly untenable.

Obviously, we all want to do the best we can at whatever we do. But in reality, it’s much more sensible to decide to make the optimum effort, not the maximum effort. Let’s take a few examples to see what I’m talking about.

Exam preparation

Here’s one you can pass on to your students – although be careful: it could be misinterpreted as advice not to bother too much. Your students are taking, say, 3 major courses. Is it better for them to try to do all of them “properly”, possibly making themselves ill in the process through lack of sleep and taking caffeine tablets to keep them awake through the night? Or to focus on one of the courses, possibly obtaining a grade ‘A’ in that and failing the other two? Or making a reasonable amount of effort on all of them, perhaps gaining grade ‘B’ across the board? The correct answer to this will depend on other factors, of course. For example, if top passes in two of the subjects are absolutely necessary to meet the conditions of university entry, that will have to be factored in. But you can see what I’m driving at here.

The meeting

I always like to be fully prepared for the meetings I go to. But let’s say I’m going to a meeting tomorrow, and a new discussion paper is published today which may be referred to in the meeting if there is time to deal with it under “Any other business”. It would be a poor use of time for me to spend hours going through the discussion paper, annotating it, making notes – now. Possibly tomorrow would be more sensible, or next week. But not now. For now, it would be much more appropriate  for me to read through the Executive Summary or, in the absence of that, skim-read the whole document – just enough for me to be able to talk intelligently about it should the matter arise after all.

Executive decisions

Leaders and managers of educational ICT have all sorts of executive decisions to take. Some are mission critical, which could affect many people for years to come, such as “What Learning Platform should we adopt?” or “What information management system should we use?” Some are less so, but are still vitally important, such as “What mobile devices should we buy?”. All of the research and deliberation has to to be done diligently, of course – but there will always come a point where it may not be worth going any further, and simply biting the bullet and taking the decision is the only viable option. This is because of the key questions which present themselves:

The key questions

In all of the scenarios listed above, and similar ones, there are two key questions which always arise sooner or later. They are:

  1. Could I spend more time reading/researching/thinking about this?
  2. Would any extra time thus spent be more beneficial than if I spent that time doing something else?

The answer to Q1 is invariably “Yes”.

The answer to Q2 is often “No”.

But this is where good information is essential. You can create your own version of the Executive Summary in all situations in which you have either a team or colleagues willing to help. For example, in my last job, which was a senior manager in a Local Authority, I had to take decisions on dozens of crucial issues all the time. A very important tool in my bag was the one side of A4 summary. Basically, I asked the person in my team who knew the issue inside out to summarise it for me, with some recommended options (and why) on no more than a side of A4.

When, as a Head of ICT, I chaired the school ICT Committee, which included colleagues from each subject area, I asked each of them to keep a watching brief on those areas of technology which interested them. For example, one of them kept an eye on hardware developments. He was reading all the magazines anyway, so it was absolutely no real hardship for him to to inform the Committee, every so often, of some new kit that it would be worth taking a closer look at. Again, I didn’t need War and Peace, just a few pointers in the right direction. And I didn’t need to do that myself either, because that colleague had a deeper and broader knowledge than I did anyway, at least as far as that particular niche was concerned.

When it comes to deciding on the amount of time and effort to spend on decision-making, think optimum rather than maximum, and you won’t go far wrong.