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(Outrageous) Confession of a Government Man

Welcome to another blog. I am a retired Senior Executive (GSA) and the author of a recently published book, Confessions of a Government Man: How to Succeed in Any Bureaucracy.

This post is another book excerpt, abbreviated and cleaned up a bit for family entertainment. My subordinates were aware of my many “rules.” This one refers to a common situation and has an outrageous memory jogger to think about when dealing with this situation. I must warn you, however, that this posting skirts the boundary of tastefulness. If you are squeamish or blush easily I suggest that you stop after the second paragraph.

Greenberg Rule Number Four: If something is due in 3 days and it doesn’t come in 3 days, it won’t come in 4, 5, 6 or 100 days.

This is a general lesson applicable to all business environments. One of my secrets of success was my dogged perseverance, a recurring theme, and my insistence that others be attentive to schedules and deadlines. In the construction field, the expression that time is money was never more prevalent. The carrying costs of even the smallest delays in a construction project can be the difference between profit and bankruptcy.

More often that not, especially in a bureaucracy, if something is overdue the likelihood is that it will never come. The intended respondent may hope the situation goes away, may not consider it a priority, or is just plain oblivious to deadlines. There is nothing mystical about this. Follow-up is critical to every business situation, and even in your personal dealings.

I had a real life opportunity away from business to apply this principle. If you are squeamish, proceed directly to the next rule.

A few years back I went through a right of passage in the form of my first kidney stone. I have been told, and I have no reason to doubt it, that the pain of a kidney stone is worse than childbirth. Childbirth is painful, but at least it is finite. Stones are a different story.

The condition was diagnosed at my first emergency room visit, and I was assured by the ER doc, and my own specialist the next morning, that “it will pass in 24-48 hours.” Well, five days and three ER visits later, while in excruciating pain, I cited “Rule Number Four” almost verbatim, to my doc. He agreed that if it didn’t happen yet it wasn’t going to happen without follow-up. I’ll spare the details of how these things are removed but when it was all over the doc told me I was indeed correct. The stone was lodged in scar tissue and would never have passed without intervention.

The lesson here is don’t be afraid to follow-up quickly when something is due and not received. A little reminder before the due date doesn’t hurt either.

The next time you have to badger someone for an overdue response think of my kidney stone.

I will post additional book excerpts from time to time. For more information about myself or my book please check out my website, www.thegovernmentman.com. For a look inside go Amazon.com.

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Jenyfer Johnson

Well put and a good analogy (having been through kidney stones myself). I have a boss that always stresses “add a due date” to every request, tasker, email and so on…or else it will be forgotten. Even then the due date passes and answers don’t come…but at least I have a date to call someone on and go back to them and ask again.

Great insight!

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

In IT, we call them “soft deadlines” which translates into “dates I give you so you will stop harassing me about the project.”

Heather Coleman

Good rule to live by. Any hints on how to apply firm pressure during follow-up when you don’t have direct authority over the other person? A colleague of mine suggested using the word “help” instead of saying “I need”. Thoughts?

Carol Davison

First time ask them. Second time explain to their supervisor that you requested it of the employee ccing your own supervisor. Go up the chain accordingly. You will be held accountable for not delivering what was requested regardless, and you want to be respected, not liked.