Rules to Live By

15 Nov

And…. I think we’re due for a little more straight talk and a “rules to live by” post. I’ve implied or directly said most of this already, but some clearly need a reminder:

1) Don’t overdo “process.” Yessssssssssssss, process is important. But process is not the actual point of aid work. The point is product, output, outcomes, impacts, benefit to beneficiaries… [INSERT PREFERRED AID-WORLD BUZZWORD]. If your process doesn’t lead to one of those in fewer steps than you have fingers, then it is probably useless and should be fixed or abandoned immediately.

2) Don’t overdo “participation.” Sometimes less is more when it comes to group decisions and group-led processes. If you can make the decision, make it. If you must involve others: Involve the lowest number of people practical for operational decisions. Involve only technicians and/or those with direct managerial authority over the project in question on technical decisions.

“Process” and “Participation” are not and can not be substitutes for good leadership skills, sound judgment, and just making good decisions (and then owning those decisions).

3) Don’t send so much email. We all get far too much email. Don’t clog your colleague’s inboxes with a lot of “FYI.” I can and do read the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and the Huffington Post on my own. And stop forwarding everything. When you do that people can’t tell whether you’re untrustworthy or just lazy.

4) Don’t copy so many people. Unless it’s an agency or department or team-wide memo, the more people copied, the less important I assume the message is. If you’re copying five people or more on an operational or technical matter and they’re all absolutely essential to the conversation, try to have a meeting or conference call instead. If you’re copying five people or more on a message that is just “FYI”, assume that they’ll delete it without reading. See also #3 just above…

5) Don’t throw your staff under the bus. I’m convinced that there is a special place in aid work Hell for those supervisors, managers, team leaders, country directors, etc. who do this. Deal directly with performance and competence issues if you must. Don’t stand for insubordination. Intervene on a controversial decision and take ownership. But don’t you dare make your staff take heat from above when it should be you taking it for them.

3 Responses to “Rules to Live By”

  1. Michael Keizer 18 November, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    I started to write a response to what you say about simplicity of process and participation, but it became such a monstrosity that I decided to make a full-blown blog post out of it. Let me know what you think.

    • J. 18 November, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

      Okay! In the purgatory of airports and airplanes for the next day or so, but will definitely have a look.


  1. A Humourless Lot» Simplicity, participation, and some tall tales – Logistics for global health and aid - 18 November, 2009

    […] this time I found myself frowning, and actually disagreeing vehemently. In his latest article on “rules to live by”, he writes: Don’t overdo “process.” Yessssssssssssss, process is important. But process […]

Pearls of wisdom

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: