Is It Always Reasonable to Follow Through?

Is It Always Reasonable to Follow Through?

Guest writer Sara Hanks explores the Say/Do ratio in business with “Is It Always Reasonable to Follow Through?”

The concept of the Say / Do Ratio, a principle I learned during my time at GE, stands as a beacon of accountability and reliability. It’s simple yet profound: if you commit to something, you own its completion. As a manager, I expect that when I assign work to an employee, it will be acted upon. If issues arise, the employee will reach out with questions or concerns. It is a culture of accountability and in many ways, I appreciate it.

But what happens when tasks veer off course or don’t pan out as expected? What if the level of effort has no payback or the work becomes obsolete? This is where the real challenge lies, and where the Say / Do Ratio is truly tested.

I recall a period where I was committed to sending a weekly report, a task that involved about three hours of meticulous data scrubbing and preparation every week. For approximately 1.5 years, this report was a thorn in my routine, until GE launched a simplification initiative. During this period, all tasks were scrutinized to determine their necessity. To my relief, this report was classified as non-essential and shelved, freeing up valuable time. This experience opened my eyes to the practicality of reassessing commitments.

Shelving non-value add tasks was easy when it was part of a major initiative. However, most of us don’t find ourselves in an environment when pushing back or stopping work is a usual activity. When faced with tasks that aren’t progressing as planned, it’s crucial to adapt. Here are some strategies that can help:

  • Set Realistic Expectations Early: If you sense uncertainty, communicate it upfront. It’s not about being pessimistic but about being transparent. For example, imagine you’re leading a project to implement a new software system. Early on, you realize integration might be more complex than anticipated. Instead of keeping quiet, you inform your team and stakeholders, setting the stage for more flexible timelines and reducing the pressure of unrealistic expectations.
  • Implement Mini-Deadlines: Regularly assess progress. If a task continues to be uncertain or problematic, it’s a sign to reevaluate. Let’s say you’re working on a marketing campaign with a three-month deadline. To ensure progress, you set monthly check-ins to evaluate the campaign’s development. In the first month, you notice some strategies are not yielding expected results, allowing you to pivot quickly rather than waiting for the final deadline.
  • Engage with Stakeholders: Schedule check-ins to discuss progress and challenges. Tailor your communication to their interests and concerns, ensuring transparency and collaboration. After a quick update, I jump into the discussion with the concerns and seek guidance from the stakeholders during the meeting. 
  • Explore Alternative Solutions: If the original plan isn’t working, don’t hesitate to seek different approaches to achieve the same goal. In general, sharing issues without offering a potential solution should be frowned upon. Before proposing a stop or a pivot with a project or a task, brainstorm other ideas. 
  • Know When to Stop: When a task seems futile, identify a stakeholder likely to support discontinuing the effort. Create an ally with the stakeholder, and then discuss it with the larger group.

Recently, these strategies proved effective during a project to build a prediction model for reliability improvements. Despite the model being built, it required substantial manual effort and offered results like the original estimates. Recognizing this, we decided to discontinue the model. First, we reviewed the challenge with the head of engineering to get support. Then we produced an updated estimate as an alternative. During the review with the remaining stakeholders, we agreed to move forward with the recommendation, rather than spend time continuing the model. This decision, though tough, was a practical application of reassessing our approach and realizing when to stop – a testament to the effectiveness of the strategies outlined above.

The Say / Do Ratio is not just about fulfilling commitments but also about smartly navigating through them, especially when situations change. It’s about balancing determination with flexibility and practicality. This approach not only ensures productivity and efficiency but also fosters a work culture of accountability, with adaptability.

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