Completed staff work is the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a subordinate, in such form that all remains to be done on the part of the manager is to indicate approval or disapproval of the completed action. The words, “completed action” are emphasized because the more difficult the problem is, the more the tendency is to present the problem to the manager in piecemeal fashion. It is the subordinate’s responsibility to work out the details, no matter how perplexing they may be. Other employees, supervisor, etc. can and should be consulted. The product, whether it involves the implementation of a new policy or affects an established one, should when presented to the manager for approval or disapproval, be completely worked out and in finished form.
The impulse, which often occurs within the inexperienced employee, is to ask the manager what to do. This recurs more often when the problem is very difficult. It is also accompanied by a feeling of mental frustration. Why? Because it is so easy to ask the manager what to do, and it appears so easy for him to answer.
Resist that impulse! You will succumb to it only if you do not know your job. It is your job to advise your manager what he ought to do, not to 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 manager merely approves and disapproves.
Don’t worry the manager with long explanations and memoranda. Writing an email to the manager does not constitute completed staff work, but writing an email for your manager to send to someone else does. Your views should be placed before them in finished form so that they can make them their view simply by signing their name. In most instances, completed staff work results in a single document prepared for the signature of the manager without accompanying comments. If the proper result is reached, the manager will actually recognize it at once. If they want comment or explanation, they 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 used as an excuse for shifting to the manager the burden of formulating the action.