By Col. Steve Biggs, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published August 15, 2014
AL UDEID AIR BASE, QATAR -- A sports enthusiast will tell you about the importance of the follow-through. Whether it is a golf swing, baseball swing, or a punch, failing to follow-through will result in a less than desirable outcome. An online golf magazine says, "it's not enough to perfect the back-swing and get the club to the ball on the right path on the down-swing. The job is only half done." The last part deserves emphasis because the same is true of our actions as well, without follow-through, our job is only half done. Ordered a part but failed to check the status? Half done. Noted a lesson learned but failed to share it? Half done. The list could go on; most of us have been frustrated at one point or another with a failure to follow-through, especially with our rotation rate. Two things we can do to improve our follow-through are to communicate and document our processes.
Peter Bregman, a strategic advisor to CEOs and their leadership teams, believes, "that the failure to follow-through stems from a faulty 'handoff'--that moment where teammates communicate about who's responsible for what." I believe that some of our modern communication systems exacerbate this problem. Have you ever found yourself spending ten minutes trying to explain what you want in an email, when a phone call would have done it in two? Or worse yet, have you ever been the victim of the dreaded "task by email equals task complete" despite not actually "receiving" the email until after the deadline? Note the emphasis on "receive." Too often we forget that actual communication requires both sending and receiving. We are a wing with thousands of rotations every six months, which equates to a large number of handoffs. If you are the individual doing the transmitting, make sure you get acknowledgement, if you are the individual in receive mode, make sure you understand what you are being told and don't be afraid to ask questions.
Despite our best efforts at communication, sometimes our handoffs miss something or the recipient, after flying for 36 hours, operating on 3 hours of sleep for multiple days, and having a fire hose of information passed their way over those days, doesn't remember the exact details 3 months later. A documented process allows them to fall back on a reference and saves all of us from reinventing the wheel. Good documentation allows an individual to figure out who, what, when, where and why. It comes in many forms--continuity folders, IT processes (TMT, MICT), meeting minutes, etc., and should include regular status updates until complete. We have just completed a major rotation, and now is the time to make it better for your successor by documenting your processes, not when you're 72 hours from departure running out-processing checklists and thinking of home.
We may not be able to practice our golf swing follow-through here, but you can practice mission follow-through with good communication and documentation. What are you doing in your job that needs to be documented and how can you best communicate that to others?