Three Strikes and You're Out

I document my attempts to seek people's cooperation and move on. It's my "If it's not important to you, it's not important to me" axiom.

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As a supervisor you are used to managing resources. You manage time, money, equipment, and personnel. And yet, you forget that you are as valuable a resource as any other. The fact that your time means as much as anyone else's is something often lost on others. It's up to you to stop enabling them to waste your time. Having learned the hard way, I created a "three strikes and you're out" rule that has helped me manage my time more efficiently.

My method is really simple. When working on a project or tasking, I attempt to obtain a response from someone with one personal meeting, one phone call, and one e-mail. If you haven't responded to me by then, I document my attempts to seek your cooperation and move on. It's my "If it's not important to you, it's not important to me" axiom. Let me give you an example.

Back in the day, I was given the task of setting up a photo shoot showing our then sheriff helping with our county's Meals on Wheels program. It was a yearly thing where this sheriff went out, handed out a few meals, took some publicity pictures, and then went about his business. Being a yearly thing, I thought it would be an easy task to complete. I had no idea it was going to be so hard to nail the sheriff down to a date and time. You would think I was calling the Vatican and trying to get an audience with the Pope.

I was supplied a target month and I called our local Council on Aging, which ran the program. I obtained from them three different possible dates within the target month and reported back to my captain within the hour. I figured I had plenty of time to set this up because we were two months out. I couldn't have been more wrong, as the dates came and went with no answer.

When the captain didn't get back to me after a week (strike one), I called him to remind him. He told me he had been busy and he would work on it. I thanked him for his time and went about my business. A week later, I still hadn't heard back (strike two), so I sent the captain a reminder e-mail. I know he opened it because I always track my e-mails and copy myself on the important ones. If I received the e-mail, so did he. After another week of not hearing anything back from him (strike three), I moved on.

Remember, the captain outranked me so it was not like I could order him to do anything. The best I could do was keep him informed and remind him I needed the confirmation for any of the three dates I supplied.

Needless to say, the projected window of opportunity came and went. A few weeks after, the captain strolled into my office to ask me about the photo shoot. I told him I had no new information as I was waiting to hear back from him as to what dates the sheriff could attend. I reminded him the supplied dates had already come and gone. He was not a happy camper.

I reminded him that we had spoken in person, we had spoken over the telephone, and I had sent him an e-mail asking for conformation of any of the three dates I had obtained. He expressed his displeasure and left my office. I never heard back on the matter other than that the photo shoot took place a month later after the sheriff's secretary made the appointment herself.

I warn you, this is not a popular move because it holds people accountable for their actions. It works because it's hard for someone to argue when you can show that you tried three different times and in three different ways to get the task done. If someone refuses to cooperate with you it's on that person. The upside is once people understand how you work, they start respecting your time. They realize you force them to have skin in the game.

There are two important points, however, that you need to keep in mind if you are going to adopt this methodology for yourself. First, always keep your chain of command informed as to your progress. This gives them the opportunity to help if need be and it's something for you to document if they don't. Second, try not to tell your supervisor, "If it's not important to you, it's not important to me." Experience has taught me that it's like rubbing salt into a wound when it turns out the supervisor was the one who dropped that ball. Fun as it might be to say, it seldom helps your cause.

Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County Sheriff's Office (Florida) with over 29 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant. He holds a Master of Political Science degree from the University of Central Florida.

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Amaury Murgado Headshot
Lieutenant (Ret.)
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