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If It Isn't Written Down, It Doesn't Exist

If it isn't written down, it doesn't exist. "Not true for me", you say? A Chief Executive Boards International member brought this idea back from his National Board to his Local Board. A lively debate followed, with the Board largely agreeing with the premise. So, what does this apply to?  Here are a few areas that came up: 
  • Strategies -- A strategy you can't write down is unlikely to be well-enough conceived or communicated to actually work.
  • Accountability -- If you expect to hold anyone accountable for a goal, a level of performance or a scope of work that isn't written down, you're probably dreaming.
    No job description = no accountability, usually because the employee, despite your own conviction, doesn't really understand what the critical performance dimensions of the job are.
  • Processes -- Business owners are always saying, "They just don't do it the way they're supposed to."  When asked, "Show me the documentation of how they're supposed to be doing it", the conversation usually stops.  Processes that aren't documented (flow charts, checklists or stepwise instructions) regularly break. Some never did work right.
  • Business Goals -- Goals (or Objectives) that aren't written are usually not achieved. What happens is that written goals usually beget written strategies. It's those strategies and the written action plans that go along with them that cause the organization to achieve its goals.
  • Organizational Alignment -- It's almost impossible to align departments, people, activities and compensation with the organization's Mission and Objectives without all that being written down. What's the responsibility of each Department? Each Manager? Each Employee? If that's not written it's certainly arguable that it doesn't exist.
  • Employee Performance -- Written performance appraisals are done for a reason. Namely, so it's crystal-clear to the employee what he's doing well and what he needs to improve. Try defending a wrongful discharge or age discrimination suit without written documentation of the employee's performance.
  • Personal Goals -- People who write down their personal goals are many times more likely to achieve them than people who say, "I have my goals in my head."
  • I've run this idea by a couple more Local Boards and I haven't heard a credible rebuttal. So, I've come to believe if it's not written down it doesn't exist.


Terry Weaver
Chief Executive Boards International
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