Managing Without Hassle


Here are a few shards of advice I learned from decades spent managing projects and programs in countries throughout the world. Hopefully they can improve your management skills. I listed them under the acronym PAUSE, because good management requires pausing to think, rather than acting blindly.

PAUSE (because there’s no rush)

Proactive rather than reactive

Ahead – Two steps

Underpromise and overdeliver

Systems approach

Evaluate – use feedback loops

Let’s look at each more carefully.

Proactive Rather than Reactive.

Going to work everyday and just reacting to emails and voicemails is a formula for frustration. Think about the future—where do you or your company want to go? Stop messing with the small stuff and get galvanized to tackle future goals.

I used to prepare technical and financial proposals while working in Dubai for a large engineering corporation. I was happy to control the preparation, because otherwise here is the type of scenario that would usually unfold. We would receive an RFP (Request for Proposal) for a proposal to be submitted by 5 p.m. in, say, Bahrain, on a date six weeks in the future. About three weeks before it was due, someone at the head office would assign the task of proposal preparation to an individual, and a week later that person would assemble a team. But because it was late and staffing was short, they would end up flying some experienced staff member from California or, say, the Philippines to help with the work. Ten days before the proposal was due this team would realize the massive scope of the effort required, and within days before submittal staff would be frantically working until 2.00 a.m. each morning. Obviously, had a designated proposal response person proactively assigned tasks and prepared a calendar for this effort as soon as the RFP was received—six weeks earlier—this slapdash, last-minute, high-stressed effort may not have unfolded.

Proactive requires anticipating the future; reactive is the result of running with a leaderless pack.

Ahead – Two Steps.

Staying one step ahead is good. Staying two steps ahead is better.

This is not always easy. You may manage a department of energetic and competent individuals, but need to interact with another department which is mismanaged. Because your efforts partially depend on their results, their delays will slow down your team. The solution here is oversight from a leader who understands the value of close communication with teams of competent individuals.

Underpromise And Overdeliver.

Humans have an innate sense of when they are being told a load of nonsense. It is why the Velvet Revolution took place in Prague; it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ex-Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani used the phrase ‘underpromise and overdeliver’ frequently. Humans often focus on short term wins and promise what they know they cannot deliver, just so they can win contracts. The result is that their company may win that one contract, but the chance of them winning successive contracts is slim. If you are proactive and stay two steps ahead, you can usually please clients by delivering either more than they want, or by delivering what they want ahead of schedule. This leaves a lasting impression that your team (or company) are organized and focused about accomplishing a job. Also, if a client makes unrealistic demands regarding a schedule, talk with them immediately to extend the deadline so that it is more realistic. Otherwise, by agreeing to a schedule you know is unachievable, you are setting yourself up for perceived failure simply because you allowed a poor timetable to be imposed on your effort.

The opposite—to overpromise and underdeliver—is a formula for failure.

Systems Approach. 

Creating systems, whether for your team or for your company, is a powerful way of helping to achieve results.

When I worked in other countries, co-workers often asked me what led to the success of the United States. I told them that it hinged on both creating and obeying laws, but also on creating systems decades ago. Whether from creating postal systems, electrical distribution networks, interstate highways or rural water supply systems—these systems were practical, replicable and acheived results. Setting up intelligent systems can reduce inefficiency, increase standardization and simplify day to day operations.

Does your team meet once a week to plan future goals and to review accomplishments? That meeting may only last 10 minutes, but having that gathering each week embodies a system. Do your sub-contractors all submit progress reports on the same type of form that you created? That’s a system. Do the H.R. staff evaluate applications according to specified criteria? That means they have a system. It sounds simple, but the quantity of humans working late hours at offices in stressful conditions because of a lack of standardized and reliable systems is astounding.

What’s required to set up a good system? See the ‘System Requirements’ section below.


Are you working hours that do not stress you out, getting enough physical exercise, eating well, enjoying time with family and friends and occasionally exploring new geographical regions or embarking on learning new topics? Is your life generally in balance? If so, that’s a pleasing way to live. It is also likely indicative that your work/management scenario is set up well. The key to evaluation: are you achieving balance?

Evaluating is critical for indicating whether your efforts are bearing fruit and whether your project team is moving in the right direction. Do your systems need to be scaled down or scaled up? Are your processes streamlined? Do you need to hire more staff or change their duties? Do you need to provide more training?

Routinely, and systematically, evaluate your progress. Do it on a monthly or weekly basis, but set up a schedule and involve other people to help consider how you can improve your company’s situation.









Remember the Bob Marley song about life being one big road with lots of signs, and when you ride through the rocks you complicate your mind? Keep it Simple.


Consider what and who the system applies to. For example, a system to ensure environmental compliance at a construction site might consider engineering and environmental factors, as well as  the work of contractors and the application of government regulations. Make sure your system factors in enough variables.


The results of a system should meet required needs. Will a health and safety system comply with the local government’s listed requirements? Will a weekly staff meeting be at an acceptable time for most members, depending on their regular travel schedules?


The beauty of a system is that it can be used repeatedly, and preferably at different locations. Is that inventory control system capable of being used at all company warehouses?


People must be able to understand the system and use it with few problems after straightforward training. It also has to achieve results. Does your system for rotating staff include flexibility in case some workers become ill?

Finally— in this day and age of political correctness and people often trying to obfuscate rationality with emotion—ignore that hype. Be logical. Stay intelligent. Don’t be subdued by the mob!

Thanks for tuning in again.