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Reduce the message to 3×5 cards

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

William Gus Pagonis ran logistics in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. A lieutenant general, Pagonis retired from the U.S. Army in 1993 after 29 years to become a corporate executive.

Based on the 18 months that Pagonis directed the movement of troops and supplies to the Gulf, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf praised him as the war’s “logistical wizard.”  

How did Pagonis do it? He kept the flow of communication short and simple between him and his team.

After retiring from the Army, Pagonis became executive vice president at Sears Roebuck & Co. for 11 years. To streamline communication with his employees, he hosted stand-up meetings four days a week. At 8 a.m., he’d gather his team and ask each person, “What happened yesterday?” and “What’s happening today?”

Everyone stood the whole time. These daily meetings lasted 15 to 20 minutes.

Pagonis discovered that when people remain standing, they talk in a faster, more concise manner. They say what’s most important and omit the fluff.

One day a week, Pagonis let everyone sit. During this longer meeting, he asked employees to report on their ups and downs for the just-concluded week.

Each respondent identified what went right and what went wrong. If they shared something that went awry, such as a budget overrun on a new construction project, they knew that Pagonis would follow up by asking, “What are you doing to fix it?”

To ensure that his managers summarized their views succinctly, Pagonis forbade them from writing long reports. Instead, he demanded that they fit the most critical information on both sides of a 3x5 index card. (With the advent of email, he created an email format based on a 3x5 card.)

Employees knew that if they couldn’t squeeze their comments into the limited space allowed by Pagonis, he wouldn’t read what they wrote. This forced them to prioritize and include only what he needed to know.

— Adapted from “Army lessons that apply to small business,” Joseph Rosenbloom, Inc.

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