Film: Sleeping Beauty
Release Date: January 29, 1959
Scenario: It has been approximately 15 years and 364 days since Maleficent placed her vengeful curse on the Princess Aurora. She has spent all of that time sending her goons to scour the countryside looking for the maiden in order to ensure her “gift,” as she called it at the time, is properly bestowed. She has one more day to get the Princess to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel or else the time will expire and she will have lost her opportunity for revenge. In questioning her minions about their search efforts, she learns some rather disturbing news.
Maleficent: It’s *incredible*! *Sixteen years* and not a *trace* of her! She couldn’t have vanished into thin air! [to her goons] Are you sure you searched everywhere?
Goon: Yep, yep, everywhere. We *all* did.
[the rest of the goons chatter in agreement]
Maleficent: And what about the town? The forests? The *mountains*?
Goon: Yeah, we searched mountains and forests and, uh, houses and… uh, lemme see here… and all the cradles.
Goon: Yep, yep, every cradle.
Maleficent: *Cradle*! [to her pet raven] Did you hear that, my pet? All these years, they’ve been looking for a baby.
Leadership Lesson: Always make sure instructions are detailed and specific.
It would be common sense to most of us that a search that began for a baby would develop into the search for a toddler / girl / teenager over the years. The funny thing about common sense, though, is how uncommon it can be. Not only that, but the assumptions and conclusions we make that we often call “common sense” are all based off of our knowledge and experience that we have spent years developing.
Not every one is working from the same set of resources, and we have to remember that. For example, let’s imagine a couple of conversations between a painter and a caterer. For one reason or another, these two individuals have to work together to complete a project.
Painter to Caterer
Let’s say that the painter is running late one day, and advises the caterer that a specific object for the project needs to be painted purple, and they won’t be there to finish it in time. The caterer looks around at the supplies available, and notices that the only paint colors present are red, blue, and yellow. The painter arrives to find that her request has not been completed, and the response she receives when questioning why is simply that there was no purple paint. She is now furious because all the caterer needed to do was mix the red and blue paints together to make purple. It’s common sense! Right? To a painter, yes, but not necessarily to everyone.
Caterer to Painter
Fast-forward through the day, and the caterer has received a phone call about an emergency that he has to leave to attend to. All the food is prepped and ready, and the only thing left to do is setup the chafing dishes and light the Sternos to keep the hot food hot. He quickly asks the painter to take care of this so he can go before the situation gets worse, and leaves. The painter places the racks, lights the Sternos, and places the food on the racks. However, the caterer never told her that she needed to make a shallow water bath in the deeper pans under the food. The event starts, and the hot food is anything but and everyone begins asking about the smell of burning metal. When the caterer comes back from the emergency to see how things are going, he is beside himself that this detail was missed and doesn’t understand why someone wouldn’t know about needing to place the water in the deeper dish. It’s common sense! Isn’t it? To someone with cooking experience, perhaps, but not to everyone.
To assume that our people will automatically know and execute details that we leave out of our instructions is the same as asking for things to be incomplete and / or incorrect. Once we know our teams very well, we can determine the tasks that each individual is extremely familiar with, at which point we can trust that they will need less and less detail to fulfill our request satisfactorily. However, until that time comes, we must be diligent to include all of the steps, ingredients, or other details necessary to ensure our people will be successful in completing the assignment given to them. We must look at our instructions with the eyes of an outside observer. Would someone brand new to our company understand everything and be able to follow our directions? Are we using language that a member of another department would still be able to understand if they had to use our instructions? Are there any steps that we are missing because we “just know” to do them?
Some people find these kinds of details boring. However, these are the same people who find themselves with teams that are confused and often have to complete tasks multiple times or constantly miss deadlines. Taking time with the details in the beginning will help to ensure success in the end.