Completed Staff Work For the Win

March 16, 2021


The good folks around “my office” these days do whatever I tell them. Empty the dishwasher. Turn out the lights. Eat some vegetables with your pizza. As our home has flexed this year to become a school, office and 24/7 hangout, our kids have become co-workers.

And while my progeny/ office mates do what they are told, they too often need to BE told, something my wife and I are working on.

One morning the kids were off to their screens and the kitchen was still a mess. Technically, the dishwasher was empty. The clean dishes were stacked below their intended cabinets. A pile of dirty dishes sat on the counter above the open dishwasher.

While ‘empty the dishwasher’ was a completed task, this job was not done.

There is a useful idea from the military called ‘The Doctorine of Completed Staff Work’:

A truly completed task includes handling details that arise, and anticipates the spirit of the request of the manager handing out the task. Contrast this with the “do the minimum”. For example, “Empty the dishwasher” would be interpreted as

  1. remove all the contents.
  2. get them to their intended storage locations (not the counter),
  3. re-load the dishwasher with dirty items.

The issuer of the task does not need to spell out the details. The spirit at the center of this idea is ‘how can I improve things, make our lives better?’

In today’s workplace the idea has been criticised for being too stern, too siff. But, like the guidance the doctrine contains, it is about the spirit of the thing, the goal. A good manager balances clarity (does not ask you to read their mind) with flexibility (leaves room for creativity and does not micromanage). The trust is best met with a response of completed staff work.

Completed Staff Work is useful as a guide to one’s own work at any level. If you are the manager, the leader, or independent contractor... Ask yourself, is the job truly done? Set the example. Please the customer. Establish expectations of a team and create your best work.

Ultimately it is about how well we understand each other (as usual). What are we trying to accomplish? How will we win?

Like so many similar ideas, Completed Staff Work is a process, and an invitation to improve. We’re still working on the kitchen.

Photo by Annie Spratt