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on the JFDI principle

Back in the early 1970s I was on a management training programme with a company that operated throughout the UK and was doing the rounds of every department in the business to learn the ropes before, hopefully, getting onto the management ladder with a promotion to a line job. One of the people I worked for during that period was a big influence on me, firstly positive, but then negative and the thing that tipped the balance was the JFDI principle.
This guy was Australian and had a very different management style to any of the other departmental managers that I had worked under. Most of our guvnors worked in their office and rarely came out into our world, but this guy was more hands on and would pop up behind you throughout the day, usually at moments when you really would have preferred him not to. He was very direct in telling you what he wanted done and I was not the only one of the management trainee hopefuls who thought that his way of doing things would be the one for us when we got our move up.
One of his favourite expressions was “JFDI” and, in his terms, this stood for “Just flaming do it”. He would take no discussion about any of his orders; you were expected to carry them out and any attempt to point out that there might just be a problem with his desire would get you a JFDI.
Now our training involved more than just learning each department and there was a good business grounding for us aside from our day job. The most important thing that they taught was for us to learn how the company made its money. We learned about sales price, cost and cost of sales and the importance of not wasting resources of any sort. These lessons were very much on my mind one day when I had just, with the collusion of the transport manager, cleared a storage space by the despatch bay to accommodate stocks of a seasonal product that would be going out in large quantities over the next few weeks. There was no point in putting elsewhere in the warehouse because we would be moving it our by the pallet load so it made a lot of sense to have it all stored as close to the back of the trucks as we could.
But then my Antipodean friend decided that something else should be stored there and despite protests, JFDI was the response and it was then that the scales fell from my eyes. This was not leadership, it was stupidity and the extra work that was caused was just costly waste. It was an important lesson though and one that changed my approach to management.
The problem with using JFDI like this is the arrogance in thinking that you know better. Of course there are things that the leader knows that the troops don’t, especially in terms of strategic approach, but the troops know more about the tactical situation and if you can pool that knowledge then you are far more likely to come up with the right solution.
Have I ever used JFDI since? Well yes, but not in the same way. Where it can work is in those cases where you get stuck in a situation where you need to change something, but you and your team just can’t seem to get a solution in place. Those moments where there seem to be too many barriers and it is all just too hard to make progress. That is the perfect time to agree amongst your team that you need to JFDI. Try it. There may be some initial pain, but once you have started you will be through the pain barrier and wondering why you hadn’t done it sooner.
JFDI can work, but only when it is a collective decision and you are all committed to the task.

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