“The Doctrine of Completed Staff Work”
Extracted from an order published by the Provost Marshal General in January 1942
The Doctrine of ‘completed staff work’ is the doctrine of this office.
Completed Staff Work’ is the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a staff officer, in such form that all that remains to be done on the part of head of the staff division, or the commander, is to indicate his approval or disapproval of the completed action. The words ‘completed action’ are emphasized because the more difficult the problems is, the more the tendency is to present the problem to the chief in piecemeal fashion. It is your duty as a staff officer to work out the details, no matter how perplexing they may be. You may and should consult other staff officers. The product whether it involves the pronouncement of a new policy or affects an established one, should, when presented to the chief for approval or disapproval, be worked out in finished form.
The impulse which often comes to the inexperienced staff officer to ask the chief what to do, recurs more often when the problem is difficult. It is accompanied by a feeling of mental frustration. It is easy to ask the chief what to do, and it appears so easy for him to answer. Resist the impulse. You will succumb to it only if you do not know your job. It is your job to advise your chief what he ought to do, not ask him what you ought to do. He needs answers, not questions. Your job is to study, write, restudy and rewrite until you have evolved a single proposed action…the best one of all you have considered. Your chief merely approves or disapproves.
Do not worry your chief with long explanations and memorandum. Writing a memorandum to your chief does not constitute completed staff work, but writing a memorandum for your chief to send to someone else does. Your views should be placed before him in finished form so that he can make them his views simply by signing his name. In most instances, completed staff work results in a single document prepared for the signature of the chief, without accompanying comment. If proper result is reached, the chief will recognize it at once. If he wants comment or explanation, he will ask for it.
The theory of completed staff work does not preclude a ‘rough draft’, but the rough draft must not be a half-baked idea. It must be complete in every respect except that it lacks the requisite number of copies and need not be neat. But a rough draft must not be an excuse for shifting to the chief the burden of formulating the action.
The completed staff work theory may result in more work for the staff officer, but it results in more freedom for the chief. This is as it should be. Further, it accomplishes two things:
a.The commander is protected from half-baked ideas, voluminous memos and immature oral presentations.
b.The staff member who has a real idea to sell is enabled more readily to find a market.
When you have completed your staff work, the final test is this:If you were the commander, would you be willing to sign the paper you have prepared, and stake your professional reputation on its being right?If the answer is no, take it back and work it over, because it is not yet completed staff work.
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