It was second down, late in the fourth quarter, and the score was tied in a high school football game between cross-town rivals. The home team was deep in its own territory when the second-string quarterback, who had replaced the injured starter, was also injured. The coach called time out and summoned the punter, who was also the third-string quarterback. Coach issued the following instructions: “No matter what happens, do what I am going to tell you. Give the ball to the fullback, then give it to him again, and on fourth down punt the ball. Do you understand?” The punter nodded and entered the game.

On the first play, the fullback broke loose and ran the ball to the 50-yard line. On the next play, the fullback broke loose again and ran the ball down to the 10-yard line. The punter called the next play, sprinted back from the center, and punted the ball far deep into the end zone. As he ran to the sideline, the coach grabbed him and yelled, “What were you thinking?” The punter looked at him and said, “I was thinking you are the dumbest coach I’ve ever played for!”

Funny story, but how often does a semblance of this occur in the business world? People too often follow instructions to the letter, not taking the time to assess the current environment and how the situation might have changed. Business does not maintain a static environment and daily changes may dictate a reassessment of current initiatives. Projects completed on time and within budget might miss the mark because they fail to address changes in the business environment. Good managers create an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable to question objectives and speak up when things don’t make sense.

It’s pretty simple. For any projects, management and employees should frequently:

  1. Stop
  2. Reread the scope and objectives of the project
  3. Determine that the work underway still meets the objectives
  4. If the answer to #3 is no, call a time out
  5. Report the current situation with facts
  6. Reestablish the objectives

We should never have to speak, nor hear the words, “What were you thinking?”