Ebony Belhumeur explains how to use the concept of completed staff work to transform your approach to managing up

As a senior executive in a vibrant Silicon Valley startup, my workdays are anything but monotonous. My everyday professional journey is a tightrope walk between a trifecta of intelligence – Emotional Quotient (EQ), Intelligence Quotient (IQ), and what I term Managerial Quotient (MQ) – an ensemble of skills seldom detailed in job descriptions. Together, they construct the unique skillset required to master the complex territory of Executive Operations.

This skillset is especially valuable when the paradoxical task of managing those who lead us falls on our shoulders. It’s a bit of an oxymoron and frankly an incredibly complex organizational location to inhabit. I’ve spent the last few years of my career learning to navigate the complexities that naturally accompany this professional reality. As one delves deeper into the labyrinth of this domain, an incredibly valuable soft skill emerges as paramount: the ability to effectively ‘manage up’.

As executive support professionals, many of us are intuitively (or subconsciously) managing and motivating our executives without explicitly realizing it. The conscious development and nurturing of this ability, however, can significantly improve our working relationships with our executives and fast-track our professional growth.

I was introduced to the concept of Completed Staff Work (CSW) through a senior-level engineer who shared its military origins dating back to WWII. This new knowledge immediately sparked my interest; it felt as though I was getting access to a secret weapon, a practical protocol grounded in reality and steeped in history that could transform my approach to managing up. I was eager to work out how exactly to incorporate it into my managerial toolbox.

Completed Staff Work: The Secret Tool for Professional Growth

The military defines Completed Staff Work as “the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a staff member, in such form that all that remains to be done on the part of the boss is to indicate approval or disapproval of the completed action.” In practical terms, it means you carry out due diligence on a problem or project and deliver a clear, actionable solution to your executive. The key here is to present answers, not additional questions.

Define the problem

Completed Staff Work starts with defining the problem. The goal is to gain an in-depth understanding of the issue at hand, its potential impact on the organization, and the constraints and needs of the decision-maker, particularly the timeframes. This information forms the foundation of the CSW process; therefore, ensuring you start out with comprehensive and accurate information is crucial.

Data gathering

Data gathering is an essential step in CSW, as it lays the foundation for understanding the problem at hand. The data-gathering process involves harnessing information from an array of sources. These might include work observations, survey results, meeting minutes, focus group discussions, and existing organizational policies and procedures. Each source can provide unique insights into the problem, ensuring a comprehensive understanding.

The key is to ask high-quality, open-ended, and thought-provoking questions that encourage critical thinking and provide insightful information. For example, instead of yes or no questions, try asking open-ended ones like “What would happen if”, “Tell me about”, “How did you”, or “How can we”.

Analyze the facts

Once the data is gathered, the next step involves data analysis. This phase entails systematically applying statistical and logical techniques to describe, illustrate, condense, and evaluate the collected data. It’s an exploratory journey into the heart of your data to discover valuable insights and detect underlying patterns and trends.

Be sure to consider the data in context and look at the ‘big picture’ before delving into specifics. This approach helps avoid drawing misleading conclusions from data that might seem significant in isolation but lose their impact when seen within the wider context.

Generate solutions

The third stage involves brainstorming alternative solutions – and this is key: it’s solutions with an ‘s’, as in multiple ways to solve the problem. Before you get to what the organization should do, consider what it could do. This broad-based orientation will require you to think outside the box, to critically evaluate your best idea and test it against other viable possibilities.

This step is a critical distinction between Completed Staff Work and just throwing ideas out in a meeting to see what sticks. You might be tempted to skip over this step, to show up with your best (or God forbid only) idea and wait for a stamp of approval. And while such actions may occasionally work, they will not help distinguish you as a leader or trusted advisor in your organization.

Generating multiple solutions is key in terms of providing context and warrants for why your recommendation – we’ll get to that – is what it is. In terms of Completed Staff Work, this context is essential. Your executive or team will need to be informed about the potential solutions you spent time investigating in order to make a confident yes or no determination.

Make a recommendation

After thoroughly defining the problem, gathering and analyzing data, and generating possible solutions, the final step in the process of Completed Staff Work is to draft a recommendation. This is the phase where the fruits of your rigorous analytical process are translated into tangible, actionable steps.

Having brainstormed potential solutions in the earlier stage, you now need to distill these into clear, concise recommendations. You’re not merely listing the options but are presenting a well-considered course of action that your executive can approve or disapprove of.

Each recommendation should be explicit, be feasible, and directly address the problem defined earlier in the CSW process. It’s beneficial to consider the potential impacts of the proposed actions on different stakeholders and the organization as a whole.

The recommendation can take different forms depending on the nature of the problem and the organization’s culture. However, a common structure involves an executive summary, problem statement, proposed action, justification, and potential implications.

The executive summary provides a quick overview of the recommendation. The problem statement reminds the reader of the issue at hand. The proposed action details the recommended course of action. The justification provides the rationale behind the proposal, supported by the data and analysis conducted earlier. The potential implications section explores the likely outcomes of implementing the proposed action, including any risks or challenges.

Ultimately, the aim of your recommendation is to enable effective decision-making. I can’t stress this enough; this is one of the most valuable skills, if not the most valuable, I’ve offered to organizations. It’s what’s positioned me for the professional growth I’ve experienced over the last decade. When you are enabling effective decision-making, you empower your leads and teams to operate in their zones of genius, at their optimal frequency; this is how to become invaluable.

So What?

Implementing the principles of Completed Staff Work not only refines us as more efficient business partners but also firmly positions us as trusted advisors. It encourages us to take ownership of outcomes, fostering our professional growth.

The complexity and dynamic nature of the contemporary business environments necessitates innovative approaches to managing up. Completed Staff Work is one such approach. By embracing Completed Staff Work, we not only facilitate efficient decision-making but also carve a unique professional path marked by competence, capability, and effective leadership. As we continue to evolve in our roles, let’s harness the power of CSW and cultivate an environment that celebrates problem-solving, creativity, and above all, Completed Staff Work.

Ebony Belhumeur is a millennial mom, Silicon Valley-based Executive Assistant, and Curator at TheAssistantsList.com blog – A Guide for Assistants in the New Era. Her previous roles include supporting the President and CEO of Sephora, an LVMH Company, as ... (Read More)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *