Today was Game 4 of the greatest sporting event on the planet — first-year Tee-ball. We’ve seen marked progress on the diamond, to the point where The Boy’s team actually made an out (one) and the kids actually run the bases in order and most of them pay attention and don’t just play in the dirt. With video camera running, it proves to be one of the more entertaining hours of my week.Today we had a communication issue. The Boy was playing first base, with another boy of the same name playing right field. Keep in mind that in Tee-ball no hit ball ever makes it to the outfield, so the outfielders are actually in the infield. And at this level, both teams put coaches on every base to instruct each play. Baseball purists need not watch. So our first base (defensive) coach yells out as each ball is hit “Boy, cover first!“. But there are two boys with the same name playing within 15 feet of each other, and wanting to please Coach, both run to cover first. This resulted in some rather amusing plays, with people running every which a way, and no one really doing what needed to be done.It reminded me of large organizations. I saw a recent CEO address the troops with what I’m sure he felt were rallying cries and directives “straight from the top”. But the trouble is, if these directives are not specific and clear enough for an individual to recognize their place and purpose and the action required, then action items can be interpreted any number of ways, and the resulting political infighting results in more confusion and redundancy than progress. Some folks interpret “we should…” as a direct mandate for personal behavior change, while others will take the exact same message and assume someone else will do it. The Family Circus comic strip ghost “Not Me” shows up even in the corporate world.Troop-rallying messages are great, when they give information that applies to everyone (e.g. profit announcements, mergers and acquisitions, new benefits, corporate philosophy), but as an impetus for daily action, it is woefully inept. A president can state that we (as a country) will not rest until freedom is secure, but that doesn’t help the patrol on foot in a dusty foreign land. Messages of action need to be given clearly, succinctly, and without room for interpretation by the authority who is closest to the action or the one who is clearly (and accepted as) responsible for the action. I talked with a manager not long ago who was called in from out-of-town by a separate group’s leader to sit in on some strategy sessions. There was an awkward situation when this person’s real boss saw him in town and he was not aware of the travel, the meetings, or the direction they implied. The military understands the need for such communication and that is why there is such emphasis placed on rank and everyone knows who the boss is. There cannot be mixed messages or fighting over who leads in the midst of battle, as is the case in most organizations.
Directives should be clear in both content and who they apply to.