Get the job done…

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One of my favourite authors is Tom Peters.  He is regarded as one of the most influential thinkers when it comes to business, strategy, leadership, and management. He has authored many books on his own and in partnership with other like-minded people.

The section below is an extract from his book:  The Little Big Things – 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE.

“Trying My Damnedest!” Wrong Answer!For a series of reasons, I was thinking about my two deployments to Vietnam. And I recalled in particular a world-shaping (for me) event:   I was out in the field, deep in the jungle-mountains west of Danang, helping to build a camp for a U.S. Army Special Forces team. I was unexpectedly accosted by a U.S. Marine Corps major who arrived in a USMC helicopter—and rushed me back to Danang. I was summoned to meet with the USMC commandant (No. 1),  General Leonard Chapman, who was paying a visit to I Corps, the northern part of South Vietnam, which was under USMC command—more specifically under the command of General Lew Walt.

What the hell was a Navy LTJG (very junior officer) doing visiting with a four-star general? Simple. My uncle, Lieutenant General H. W. Buse Jr., was a USMC muckety-muck back in D.C., and my aunt had insisted that General Chapman see me in the flesh. (Aunts are like that, even, or especially, at the Mrs. Several-star-general level.) (Also, her son, my cousin, was in Vietnam as well—a USMC captain, holder of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.)

When I got back from the field, covered with mud (it was rainy season — persistent jungle rain), I was sent directly to the commandant with no time to change into a respectable uniform—a great embarrassment.  General Chapman engaged in all of about 15 seconds of chitchat, and having done his duty to my aunt, sent me on my way. As I was literally walking out of his temporary field office, he summoned me back, and said, out of the blue, “Tom, are you taking care of your men?” (I had a little detachment, about 20 guys as I recall, doing the work described before.)

I replied to the general, “I’m doing my best, sir.” To this day, with a chill going up my spine (no kidding—as I type this), I can see his face darken, and his voice harden. “Mr. Peters,* (*U.S. Navy junior officers are referred to as “Mr.”) General Walt, General Buse, and I are not interested in whether or not you are ‘doing your best.’  We simply expect you to get the job done—and to take care of your sailors.  Period. That will be all, Lieutenant.”

The line still resonates with me—as you can doubtless tell. You are there to “get the job done”—not just merely to “do your best.” I recall the shock of recognition, many years later, when I tripped over a Churchill quote that went like this: “It is not enough to do your best—you must succeed in doing what is necessary.”

Reluctant as I am to use such strong and absolutist language, there is Only One Acceptable Standard: Getting done what is necessary to get done.

Proceed accordingly.

And…mercilessly…evaluate yourself accordingly.


The point here is that saying “I’m trying my best”, is actually not what is important.  It seems if this statement leaves the door open for even the slightest possibility that the job might not get done as required.  It allows for failure.  For sub-standard performance/execution/implementation.  And if this indeed happens, then there is the well-known follow-up response:  “I tried my best”.  It is the cop-out phrase.  Getting off the hook.  You tried your best – what else could you have done?  How can anybody expect you to do more than your best?  Well, maybe “your best” is just not good enough?  There are a million examples where, if “your best” is less than the required “get the job done”, it would result in:  inefficiencies, poor quality, business failure, financial losses, and even the loss of lives

Understand what is required.  In other words, what does GET THE JOB DONE look like?  This might be in the form of a specific goal, objective, target, or activity.  How are you going to achieve this?  What resources do you need?  What training and skills are required?  What support is needed?

Plan for success.

Then execute.

Never say:  “I will try my best…”

Rather say:  “I will get the job done!”