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Don’t Ask. Just Do.

January 3, 2011
tags: ,

Sit back for a moment and let me share a story. 

This is the story of Joe, relatively new to his position, who had some ideas to make his job easier and more efficient.  These ideas that Joe had would also, by virtue of a few minor changes, save time for himself and his co-workers, eliminate redundancies AND reduce the risk of errors in the process.     

Now Joe had examined his idea from several angles.  He had outlined the very simple changes and was able to list the advantages for making the change.  So Joe was certain that The Boss would readily be onboard, but before implementing them, they had a conversation:

Joe:      “Hey Boss, I’d like to talk to you about changing the way in which we Exfoliate the Wingdings, which, as you know, takes us 4 hours every week.  I’ve got some ideas outlined here where we can eliminate some redundant steps in the Exfoliation process, cut down on the time spent on this process, reduce the errors caused by multiple people keying-in data, and free team members up to do additional tasks.”

Boss:  “Joe, thanks for bringing it up, but that just won’t work.”

Joe:  “Gee Boss, I’m pretty sure it will; over the past few weeks I’ve tested a few of the new steps and I really think we should try this.  I’ll take responsibility for making sure we can transition to this without a hitch. I’m really excited about how these new efficiencies will make everyone’s jobs easier.”

Boss:  “Joe, we’ve done it this way for 15 years and it works just fine.  There is no need for us to change the Exfoliation process.”

Joe:  “But Boss, when you hired me you told me that you wanted my input to make some operational changes.  I’m just a tad unclear why we can’t make these very easy changes which will reap some great rewards.  And why do we need to do it the ‘old’ way in the first place?”

Boss:  “Joe – don’t ask, just do.”


A true story.  And pretty common.

Here we have Joe who came into an organization with the proverbial “fresh set of eyes.”  In fact, one of the reasons Joe was hired was because of his ability to bring some fresh-thinking and innovative ideas.  But when Joe attempted to question a long-standing process (which to an outside observer made little sense) he was informed “Don’t Ask.”  Don’t ask questions, don’t think, don’t wonder and innovate.  Don’t have any curiosity.  Rather “Just Do.”  Do your task; do your job; keep your head to the grindstone, punch-in and punch-out at the end of the day.


The Boss, however, would be better served by using the phrase “Don’t Ask, Just Do” with a totally different focus:

  • He should make sure that Joe understands the company’s mission, culture and goals
  • He should establish the parameters in which Joe can (and should) make decisions – and communicate those parameters to Joe
  • He should acknowledge the unique talents, skills and abilities that Joe possesses
  • He should free Joe to make decisions

When The Boss approaches the management of his operation from this standpoint, when he tells Joe “Don’t Ask, Just Do” there will be a completely different result.  The Boss will eliminate his need to deal with day-to-day minutia and can focus on larger company priorities.  Joe will have a sense of ownership, pride and accountability because he will be free to make decisions in an appropriate manner and remain energized and excited about his contributions to the company.

Joe:      “Hey Boss, I’d like to move our triplicate-carbon-copy Authorization Form from paper to web-based.”

Boss:     “Joe – no need to ask; you have the power to DO!”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2011 7:21 am

    great reminder that many are not ready for “different” let alone change. Let us see whether the economic situation that the USA finds itself in is going to change “old” habits. Thanks for the great blog makes one think!

  2. January 3, 2011 4:58 pm

    I find these situations difficult because it is obviously two-fold. What is the company culture ready and able to take on? But in denying Joe, he then shuts down and will probably be less willing to provide new insight in the future. It’s a conundrum that leaders in organizations need to be aware of. The HOW we do work is going to become more and more important. How we interact with our employees, how we do work – as we move into a more “social” society, the how will be out there for everyone to see.

  3. Robin Schooling permalink*
    January 4, 2011 8:47 am

    @Peter – exactly. Those who will not and/or cannot shall be left behind….

    @Cindy – I agree that the company culture and ingrained ways of operating are the driving force here. What is expected of managers is one thing, but then if other behavior is accepted in how they treat employees, well, that negates the ‘expectations.’ And poor Joe here becomes the one who is confused, de-motivated and will now just go-through-the-motions rather than innovate.

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